The brand new Lion Air jet that crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Indonesia's capital city one week ago had an airspeed indicator problem on its four previous flights, investigators revealed Monday.
National Transportation Safety Committee chairman Soerjanto Tjahjono said the damaged indicator was discovered after the data had been downloaded from the Boeing 737-MAX 8's data recorder that was recovered from the sea.
“We are formulating, with NTSB and Boeing, detailed inspections regarding the airspeed indicator,” he said, according to Reuters.
Problems with the plane's last flight before the crash, from Denpasar on Bali to Jakarta, were widely reported. Passengers on that Sunday night flight said a variety of issues caused frustration and alarm among fellow travelers.
Alon Soetanto told TVOne the plane dropped suddenly several times in the first few minutes of its flight.
"About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight," he said. "We felt like in a roller coaster. Some passengers began to panic and vomit."
But officials cautioned it's not yet known if the reported problem was from a mechanical or maintenance issue.
“We don’t know yet where the problem lies, what repair has been done, what their reference books are, what components have been removed,” said Nurcahyo Utomo, the agency's sub-committee head for air accidents. “These are the things we are trying to find out: what was the damage and how it was fixed.”
The plane plunged into the Java Sea last Monday, minutes after taking off, killing all 189 people on board. Searchers are still trying to locate the cockpit voice recorder on the flight. Boeing has sent experts to Indonesia to assist with the investigation.
Lion Air has said a technical problem with the jet was fixed after problems were reported the night before the crash.
Rusdi Kirana, Lion Air's co-founder, was not invited to speak on Monday by Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, who moderated the meeting between relatives and the officials who are overseeing the search effort and accident investigation. He did appear at the meeting, standing with his head bowed, according to the Associated Press.
Family members at the meeting demanded to know why the plane had been cleared to fly after problems the flight before.
"Lion Air said the problem was fixed, is it true the problem was cleared?" asked Bambang Sukandar, whose son was on the flight. "If not, technicians in charge must be responsible. The law is absolute because they have stated that the plane was cleared to take off again. These bad technicians must be processed by law to prevent plane accidents from continuing in Indonesia."
The Lion Air crash is the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people died on a Garuda flight near Medan. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing all 162 on board.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.