Lion aircraft: Black box retrieved; ‘Distress call’ on previous flight

The pilot of a Lion Air flight from Indonesia’s Bali island on Sunday made a distress call minutes after take-off due to technical problems, but they were overcome. The same jet crashed on another flight hours later, killing all 189 people on board.

Herson, chief of the airport authority for the Bali-Nusa Tenggara area, told Reuters that after the call the pilot updated the control tower to say that the plane was flying normally and he would not return to the airport as requested.

“The captain himself was confident enough to fly to Jakarta from Denpasar,” said Herson, speaking by phone from Bali and referring to the resort island’s airport.

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The pilot of another plane that was approaching Bali just after the Lion Air jet had taken off said he was ordered to circle above the airport and listened in to a radio conversation between the Lion Air pilot and air traffic controllers.

“Because of the Pan-Pan call, we were told to hold off, circling the airport in the air,” said the pilot, who declined to be named.

Pilots use “Pan-Pan” calls to flag urgent situations. They are a step down from “Mayday”, which signals severe distress. The Denpasar-Jakarta flight landed at the Indonesian capital’s airport at 10:55 pm local time on Sunday.

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The same Boeing 737 MAX jet took off at 6:20 AM the next morning, bound for Bangka island, off Sumatra, and plunged into the sea thirteen minutes later.

Just before the crash, the pilot had made a request to return to base.

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