January 9, 2021, was a tragic beginning in the history of aviation. A Boeing 737-500 of Sriwijaya Air crashed into the Java Sea after a few minutes of take-off. The aircraft had taken off from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. There were 62 people on board, including 10 children. It was a domestic flight to Pontianak; a city on Indonesia’s Borneo island.

The weather was not too good. The plane departed at 2:36 p.m. from Jakarta. After climbing to an altitude of 10,900 feet after four minutes, it went into a steep descent. It went missing at 2:40 p.m.

Sea divers and search crew started the search for the missing aircraft. The traces of wreckage were found in the Jakarta Sea in an area known as Thousand Islands; north of Jakarta. The debris included parts of the aircraft and human remains. There were no survivors.

Flight Profile of SJ-182 on a Flight Data Recorder

As per the flight profile gathered from the Flight Data Recorder, the take-off was uneventful and it climbed initially. The blue region depicts the increase in altitude. the grey region depicts the speed. The bottom scale is recording the time. About four minutes later, there is a reduction in altitude (blue region) as well as a reduction in airspeed (grey region). Further investigation of the flight data recorder shows that one of the engines lost its thrust and the aircraft went into the bank. It caused a reduction in airspeed. As a result, the aircraft failed to gain altitude. During the last few seconds, before the crash, there is a steep descent in the altitude (blue region) and a sudden increase in airspeed (grey region). The aircraft becomes uncontrollable if it is receiving thrust from a single engine.

The auto-throttle system of the aircraft could be one of the reasons for the asymmetrical (unbalanced) thrust of the engines. The Cockpit voice recorder of the aircraft was not found. The FDR data shows that the pilots did not disengage the autothrottle system. They tried to resolve the problem but failed to control the aircraft.  The component is under investigation in the USA.

The Big Question!

Wreckage debris of SJ-182

The maintenance record shows that the Autothrottle system had a problem. But, the problem was not recorded properly. The pilots from the previous flight said that they experienced a similar nature of problems. But, they disengaged the auth throttle system and managed it manually.

So many precious lives got lost. Who is responsible for the acts of the air and maintenance crew? Can we just add this accident to the annals of aviation history like the previous ones? Is it that simple? There are so many gaps. The maintenance crew did not diagnose the problem correctly. The aircrew was not trained properly to take the right actions.  What is the role of the organization in the operations?

Organizations are responsible for human factor failures. The authorities cannot move on without giving due consideration to the gaps in operations. It is no wonder if a similar nature of occurrence takes place in the future because we only remove the symptoms and not the problem.

Unfortunately, operators in this region have no serious consideration for human safety. Laws are weak. People are unaware of their rights to get the right claim. The regulators and operators always try to save their tails first. The manufacturers are sometimes part of this collaboration.

Last Word

Accidents will continue to happen unless the safety recommendations are not implemented and followed for future safety. Past lessons must be a learning point for the future. Otherwise, we will keep losing precious lives, and adding such accidents to the records of aviation history.

Written by guest writer, Faisal Bashir