Between Two Boeing Crashes, Days of Silence and Mistrust
JAKARTA, Indonesia — When a new Boeing 737 Max 8 plunged into the waters off Indonesia last October, a terrifying mystery confronted the aviation industry: What could have caused Lion Air Flight 610, flown by experienced pilots in good weather, to fall out of the sky just 12 minutes after takeoff?
印度尼西亚雅加达——去年10月，一架新的波音737 Max 8型客机坠入印度尼西亚海域后，航空业面临着一个使人恐惧的疑团：在驾驶该航班的飞行员经验丰富、天气状况也很好的情况下，是什么原因导致狮航(Lion Air)610航班在起飞仅12分钟后就坠毁了呢？
But it took the second, equally terrifying crash of an identical aircraft under similar conditions five months later, in Ethiopia, to reveal the climate of mistrust that has plagued inquiries into what caused the first disaster.
Interviews with government officials, aviation experts and company executives portray an environment in which Lion Air, Boeing, subcontractors, investigators and regulators erected walls to sharing information that seemed designed more for self-preservation than finding the truth about a crash that claimed 189 lives.
Indonesia’s top aviation regulatory official said both Boeing and the United States Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the Max 8, were slow in responding to requests for help in determining the safety of other Max planes flown by Indonesian carriers.
印尼最高航空监管官员表示，对于帮助确定印尼各航空公司运营的其他Max系列客机安全性的请求，波音以及给Max 8颁发许可证的美国联邦航空管理局（United States Federal aviation Administration，简称FAA）都反应迟缓。
Reached for comment, the F.A.A. said, “We are supporting the investigation and are in constant contact with Indonesian civil aviation authorities.” Boeing declined to comment.
Executives from Lion Air, a low-cost carrier with powerful political backers, have essentially gone into hiding. Lion Air’s safety director told The New York Times he could not accept an interview because of an agreement with Boeing.
It is not yet clear whether the Ethiopian Airlines crash, in which all 157 people onboard died on March 10, could have been prevented if information had been shared more transparently and quickly after the Lion Air accident. Nor is it certain whether the two new Max jets suffered from the exact same problems, although officials believe that the pilots of both planes struggled with an automated stall-prevention system that was introduced in the Max.
But the lack of trust and recriminations that have afflicted the inquiry into Flight 610 almost certainly slowed the setting of safety standards for the Max, which remains grounded across the world since last month.
“Lifesaving lessons are only life saving if we learn from them,” said Charles Herrmann, a lawyer representing some families of Lion Air victims in a suit against Boeing. “It’s absolutely inexcusable that it takes another crash for people to kick this investigation into high gear.”
The Max is the fastest-selling plane in Boeing’s history, and thousands of these jetliners are still on order. Carriers worldwide will have to decide whether Boeing’s proposed fixes will satisfy their safety requirements and placate worried consumers.
“Our passengers, psychologically, they don’t trust flying with the Max anymore,” said Ikhsan Rosan, the spokesman for Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier, after it became the first airline to announce that it wanted to cancel its order of Max 8 jets.
“从心理上讲，我们的乘客不再信任乘坐Max系列客机，”印尼国有航空公司鹰航(Garuda Indonesia)的发言人伊赫桑·罗桑(Ikhsan Rosan)说，他是在该公司成为首家希望取消Max 8订单的航空公司后说这番话的。
Pilots and airlines have complained that they were not informed about the existence of the anti-stall system, called MCAS. Investigators suspect that in the case of Lion Air Flight 610, and later in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, errant data mistakenly triggered MCAS, sending the plane into a fatal nose-dive.
In November, Haryo Satmiko, the deputy chief of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, known as KNKT, recounted confusing conversations he was having with Boeing employees who had arrived in Jakarta. Mr. Haryo said he brought up whether inaccurate data readings could have prompted Flight 610’s sudden descent.
去年11月，印尼国家交通安全委员会（National Transportation Safety Committee，简称KNKT）副主任哈约·萨蒂米科(Haryo Satmiko)讲述了他与抵达雅加达的波音员工之间令人困惑的对话。哈约说，他提出了数据不准确是否可能导致610航班突然下降的问题。
What Mr. Haryo was describing, though he did not know it at the time, was a malfunction of MCAS, which automatically forces the plane’s nose down if data indicates that the jet is angled too sharply upward and might stall.
Nurcahyo Utomo, the head of the safety group’s air-accident subcommittee, said he first learned of the term MCAS from news reports.
“People immediately assumed this was a Lion Air problem, an issue with a terrible Indonesian airline,” said Gerry Soejatman, an Indonesian aviation analyst. “But when a brand-new plane crashes, you have to look at all the factors, including the possibility of a manufacturer problem or defect. And you have to look really carefully when that manufacturer isn’t providing all the answers.”
Days after Flight 610 crashed, Polana Pramesti, the head of Indonesia’s civil aviation authority, waited for visiting Boeing and F.A.A. officials to talk to her. As head of Indonesia’s version of the F.A.A., she wanted advice on whether to ground Max 8 jets in Indonesia. But the Americans, who did spend time with transportation safety committee officials, never came to her, she said.
在610航班坠毁后的几天里，印尼民航局局长波拉娜·普拉梅斯蒂(Polana Pramesti)一直在等待与来访的波音公司和FAA官员与她交谈。作为印尼相当于FAA部门的局长，她想得到是否在印尼停飞Max 8机型的建议。但她说，这些美国人从未来找过她（他们的确与交通安全委员会的官员有过接触）。
The official in her office in charge of airworthiness and aircraft operation, Avirianto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, fired off messages to the F.A.A. asking for an explanation of MCAS, which at the time was only vaguely understood, even by aviation experts, because Boeing had failed to put information about it in the plane’s manual.
Although he conducted four teleconferences with F.A.A. officials, Mr. Avirianto said he was never given a clear explanation of how MCAS worked or whether it was safe. “They kept saying they were still analyzing, evaluating,” he said. “We never received any guidance because there were never any clear answers for us.”
The F.A.A. disagrees, saying that it had briefed the Indonesians “on several of the advisories and airworthiness directives on the Boeing 737 Max accidents issued to civilian aviation authorities and operators globally.”
FAA不同意这种说法，并说已向印尼方面通报了“针对波音 737 Max系列客机事故向全球民用航空当局和运营商发布的几条建议和适航性指示”。
But Ms. Polana said, “I think they are protecting Boeing.”
“The F.A.A. was the one that certified the aircraft safe to fly,” she said. “And then they found, no, the aircraft is dangerous.”
Ms. Polana also sent a letter to Boeing in November, asking for guarantees about the Max. But Boeing was not forthcoming, either, she said. “Of course, we were worried,” Ms. Polana said. “We wanted reassurance that the Boeing 737 Max 8s in Indonesia are airworthy.”
去年11月，波拉娜还曾致信波音，要求公司提供有关Max系列客机的保证。但她说，波音也没有做出回应。“当然我们很担心，”波拉娜说。“我们想得到印尼的波音737 Max 8客机适航性的保证。”
Boeing and the F.A.A. have come under scrutiny since the Lion Air crash. The United States Department of Transportation is examining the F.A.A.’s certification of the Max model, amid revelations that Boeing employees may have facilitated that process.
Only after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Ms. Polana said, did the F.A.A. and Boeing become more responsive. On March 22, she had her inaugural teleconference with F.A.A. officials — the first time Indonesian officials received a precise explanation of how MCAS worked and how Boeing was planning to fix it, they said.
For days before the Oct. 29 Lion Air crash, the airplane had experienced faulty data readings. But no one understood that these problems could force the plane into a sudden and bewildering plunge. The plane’s handbook had no clear fix, and Mr. Avirianto was alarmed to find that a new Max flight simulator in Singapore did not simulate MCAS.
In the days after the crash, American aviation officials visiting Jakarta cast aspersions on their Indonesian counterparts, even as they refused to speak on the record: Which was more reliable? An airplane manufacturer that was one of the most respected companies in the United States, or a low-cost carrier with a long history of shocking safety lapses operating in a country troubled by corruption and weak regulation?
And as the spotlight intensified after the crash of Flight 610, Lion Air’s executives retreated from view.
Last month, Daniel Putut, Lion Air’s director of safety and security, told The New York Times that he could not accept an interview because of a nondisclosure agreement with Boeing. (Such agreements are not unusual, but they do raise questions about transparency in an ongoing investigation.)
Indonesian investigators came under criticism, as well. Their preliminary report, released in late November, was marred by inconsistencies and incomplete information, aviation analysts said.