JAKARTA, INDONESIA—As the seconds ticked by on the doomed Indonesian flight, the pilot handed the controls to his co-pilot and flipped through the pages of a technical manual, trying to figure out what was happening.

Then, as the nose of Lion Air Flight 610 repeatedly bucked downward, Harvino, the co-pilot, began to pray.

On Oct. 29, a brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8 dived into the Java Sea in Indonesia after only 12 minutes in the air, killing all 189 people on board.
On Oct. 29, a brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8 dived into the Java Sea in Indonesia after only 12 minutes in the air, killing all 189 people on board.  (David Ryder / Bloomberg)

The supplication was caught on the final seconds of audio in the cockpit voice recorder.

“God is great,” Harvino, an experienced Indonesian aviator, said, then recited a verse asking God to grant a miracle.

But there was no miracle Oct. 29, when the brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8 dived into the Java Sea in Indonesia, amid good weather, after 12 minutes in the air.

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“I think he knew it was unrecoverable,” said Nurcahyo Utomo, head of the air accident subcommittee of the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee, who described the contents of the cockpit voice recorder that was retrieved from the ocean floor in January.

With the crash of a second Boeing 737 Max 8 earlier this month, there has been a renewed focus on the investigation into what caused Flight 610 to crash in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.

Indonesian transportation officials say they do not expect to publish a final report on the accident until July or August. A preliminary report, based on the contents of the flight data recorder was released in November.

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The cockpit voice recorder was not found until after the preliminary report was released, so the conversations between Bhavye Suneja, an Indian national who was piloting the plane, and Harvino were not included in the initial investigative account.

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Indonesian aviation regulations bar the public release of a transcript of the audio in a cockpit voice recorder. But investigators from the National Transportation Safety Committee described the recording.

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Throughout the brief flight, a rattle could be heard on the voice recorder, evidence that a device called a stick shaker was clattering to alert the pilots of a potential stall, said Ony Soerjo Wibowo, an air safety investigator. Investigators have speculated that incorrect sensor data could have mistakenly triggered both the stick shaker and the anti-stall system, which is called MCAS.

In the cockpit voice recording, the pilots discussed unreliable readings they were getting, national transportation safety officials said. But they did not seem to know about the MCAS system, which appears to have kept dragging the plane’s nose down.



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