After the Crash: What You Should Know About the Boeing 737 Max Jet Tragedies

Jul 12, 2019 by

What You Need to Know About the Boeing 737 Max Airplane Crashes

In October 2018 and March 2019, the lives of more than 300 passengers and crew were taken when Boeing 737 Max jets crashed.

In the first incident, Lion Air Flight 610 departed from Jakarta, Indonesia at 6:20 AM on October 29, 2018. The 189 passengers and crew were heading to Pangkalpinang in the Bangka Belitung Islands of Indonesia.

But that was the last trip they would ever start. Just twelve minutes after leaving the ground, the jet crash-landed in the Java Sea, and everyone on board perished.

Less than five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 departed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and headed toward Nairobi, Kenya. The date was March 10, 2019, at 8:38 a.m.

The 157 passengers on board had only six minutes of flight before crashing in an open space near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia. There were no survivors.

The aftermath has been tumultuous. Boeing underwent intense scrutiny for all its planes. The company issued formal apologies and grounded the 737 Max.

The media was flooded with occasionally inaccurate information about the incidents. Meanwhile, heartbroken families grieve for their loved ones and have filed wrongful death suits.

What went wrong? How could two plane crashes occur within such close proximity to each other using the same jet? Take a closer look.

A Faulty Computer System

This version of the Boeing aircraft has been one of the most popular and bestselling jets in history, thanks to its fuel- and cost-efficient features. Unfortunately, a key default in the computer system also made these two planes among the most dangerous aircraft in the sky.

Investigations on the crashes have not been completed, but currently, all signs point to a problem with the plane’s automated stability system. Apparently, two sensors designed to measure the angle of flight took contradictory readings, which triggered an automated safety system that steadily pushed the nose of the plane downward.

The pilots recognized a problem immediately, but were unable to disengage the system, even after putting the plane into manual mode. The system continued to press the nose downward until the jet crashed.

This safety system is called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). It was designed in response to the problem airplanes had with stalling when they made a steep turn or took off at too steep an angle.

Traditionally, pilots steady the plane manually when the angle is too steep, but Boeing believed an automated system would make the plane safer and easier to navigate. In most cases, it does.

But in the case of these two Boeing 737 Max jetliners, the sensors indicated the angle was too steep, when in reality, it wasn’t. As it attempted to correct the perceived problem, it drove the planes into the ground.

Boeings Efforts to Correct the Problem

The Boeing 737 manuals produced step-by-step instructions for disengaging the MCAS if it malfunctioned. However, the pilots in these two planes were not able to complete the process in time.

Simulations have indicated that, in the case of the Lion Air flight, there would have been fewer than 40 seconds to correct the problem before it was too late to recover from the nosedive. Test pilots found that wasn’t enough time; the Ethiopian Airlines pilots had half that much time to work with.

The Boeing 737 is the fastest-selling aircraft in the history of the company. More than 4,500 craft have been purchased. Airlines loved the efficiency and safety features, including the MCAS, which should have made the plane safer.

After the crashes, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg initially stood by the design, and said that the company was “confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 Max,” that it was “among the safest airplanes ever to fly.”

Since then, Boeing has grounded all versions of the 737 Max. So far, about 500 grounded planes are scattered around Seattle, which is costing the company billions as it works to correct the software problem.

Muilenburg still believes that the Boeing 737 Max can be safe and airworthy again. “We will take the time necessary to make sure the planes are safe,” he said at a Paris Air Show, as reported by CBS News. “We are very sorry for the loss of lives.”

Muilenburg also acknowledged that his company had not communicated properly with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with regard to potential problems with the safety indicator in the cockpit. Boeing was aware of a potential for a problem more than a year without ever alerting the FAA.

It’s not clear whether the crashes could have been averted if the indicator had been working properly, but Boeing has grounded all the planes anyway, and they won’t be returned to the air until the matter is fully resolved.

There’s no telling how this could affect Boeing long term. Two crashes of this magnitude in such a short time could send the company underground if the situation is not handled skillfully.

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