This timeline shows exactly what happened on board the Lion Air Boeing 737 Max that crashed in less than 13 minutes, killing 189 people

Rescue workers with a part of the plane’s wreckage that shows Lion Air’s logo. REUTERS/Stringer
  • Lion Air flight JT 610, a Boeing 737 Max, crashed into the sea in October 2018. All 189 people on board died.
  • The official crash report, released by Indonesia last week, gives a definitive timeline of what happened on the doomed flight.
  • It shows that the pilots tried more than 20 times to stop the plane’s computer forcing its nose down. But they could not bring it under control, and the plane crashed into the sea at 450mph.
  • This is the full timeline of the fatal flight, according to investigators.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Lion Air flight JT 610 took off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 6.20 a.m. on October 29, 2018. Less than 13 minutes later it smashed into the sea, killing everyone on board.

It was the first of two fatal crashes for Boeing’s 737 Max. A second crashed over Ethiopia in March 2019, leading to the grounding of the plane, and plunging Boeing into an ongoing crisis.

The final report, released by investigators last week, pointed to flaws in Boeing’s design of the plane, as well as mistakes by the airline and its staff.

The timeline it outlines shows the crew wrestling to control the plane as automatic anti-stall software, known as MCAS, overrode their instructions and pushed the nose down more than 20 times. It crashed into the Java Sea at around 450mph.

Here is what happened on board:

6.18 a.m.: JT 610 was given clearance to take off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. On board are 189 people: 181 passengers, 2 pilots, and 6 flight attendants.

A Lion Air plane.

It was bound for Pangkal Pinang on Indonesia’s Bangka Island.

Before the plane took off, the crew noted that the weather conditions on the route were good.

6.20 a.m., 16 seconds: Unusual readings were recorded while still on the ground, less than 30 seconds before takeoff. Two displays in the cockpit recorded different wind speeds, while the plane’s two angle of attack sensors, which measure its orientation in the air, disagreed by a substantial 21 degrees.

The wreckage of JT 610. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Phot

6.20 a.m., 32 seconds: The plane experienced a “control column stick shaker” warning, which physically shakes the plane’s controls to alert the pilots of a potential stall. It continued for most of the flight.


This video shows the controls column stick shaker on flight simulator for the Boeing 737-800, a predecessor to the 737 Max.

6.20 a.m., 37 seconds: The plane sounded a “takeoff configuration warning” — a generic alert which flags potential problems. The report says the captain queried the alert, but gives no further detail.

The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

6.20 a.m, 40 seconds: Takeoff. The captain is flying. Problems begin to come thick and fast.

A Lion Air Boeing 737-800 in January 2013. Enny Nuraheni/Reuters

6.20 a.m., 44 seconds: Sensors started recording two different airspeeds. The first officer asked the captain what the problem is, and if they should turn back. He did not respond.

The plane’s black box, recovered after the crash, said one indicator recorded a speed of 164 knots while the other recorded 173 knots.

6.21 a.m., 12 seconds: The first officer told the captain that on-board sensors were giving two different altitude readings, more than 200ft apart. The captain spoke with an air traffic controller in the terminal, who said to climb higher.

A pair of tires recovered from the Lion Air plane. AZWAR IPANK/AFP/Getty Images

The altimeter on the captain’s primary flight display indicated 340 feet, while the first officer’s indicated 570 feet.

6.21 a.m., 28 seconds: The first officer asked the controller to confirm the altitude of the plane. The controller said it was 900ft. On the plane, one display said 790ft, the other said 1,040ft.

Relatives of passengers on the Lion Air flight cry at Bhayangkara R. Said Sukanto hospital in Jakarta. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

6.21 a.m., 37 seconds: The captain asked the first officer to run through a memorized checklist for what to do when the plane is giving unreliable airspeed readings. The first officer did not respond. The first officer suggested flying downwind, which the captain rejected.

Colleagues of victims of the crashed Boeing 737 Max Lion Air flight throw flowers off a boat at the site of the crash in November 2018. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

6.21 a.m., 52 seconds: The first officer asked permission to move into a holding pattern, citing a “flight control problem.” The controller did not respond to the holding pattern request, and later did not remember it being made.

6.22 a.m., 4 seconds: After a suggestion from the first officer, the captain adjusted the plane’s flaps from the “Flaps 5” setting, to the more flat “Flaps 1” setting. He then asked the first officer to take over the controls.

Wreckage from the plane. Ed Wray/Getty Images

6.22 a.m., 15 seconds: The controller noted that the plane’s altitude was decreasing, from 1,700ft to 1,600ft. The plane’s controls still showed two different speeds.

6.22 a.m., 24 seconds: The captain and controller agreed that the plane should climb to 5,000 feet. The plane still showed two different speeds.

Personnel examine debris from the downed flight. Beawiharta/Reuters

6.22 a.m., 32 seconds: An alarm warned that the plane was flying at a steep angle. The black box showed the plane briefly banked to 35 degrees, as if to turn.

6.22 a.m., 44 seconds: The plane, which appears not to have made it to the planned 5,000ft, instead rapidly descends 600ft. It has been in the air just two minutes.

People watch as a rescue helicopter heads to the crash site. REUTERS/Beawiharta

6.22 a.m., 48 seconds: Sensors on the plane radically disagree about its angle of attack. One says the plane is flying with its nose pointing 18 degrees up, the other says it is flying with the nose 3 degrees down.

Families of passengers on the Lion Air flight look at the belongings of passengers in Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Angle of attack sensors compare the angle of the wings to the direction of the plane, to establish the orientation of the plane in the sky. Angle of attack data is what triggers the MCAS system on a 737 Max — the faulty system which led to the crash.

This video explains the measurement:

Boeing has been criticised for how the Max design relied on information from only one angle of attack sensor, meaning that a single faulty reading could trigger MCAS.

6.23 a.m, 0 seconds: The plane warns of low speed. There are still contradictory readings of how fast it is actually going.

Relatives react to the news. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

The controller said the ground speed of the aircraft, shown on the radar display, was 322 knots.

But the black box showed the captain’s flight display indicated the speed was 306 knots, and the first officer’s indicated 318 knots.

6.23 a.m., 4 seconds: The control column stick shaker again warned of a possible stall. The plane warns of both too much speed and not enough speed.

Debris from the plane. Ed Wray/Getty Images

6.23 a.m., 9 seconds: The captain asked the first officer for a memorized checklist of what to do, but gets no reply.

6.23 a.m., 15 seconds: An automatic system on board the plane begins to force its nose down, activating for 11 of the next 17 seconds.

Gulshan Suneja, father of Bhavye Suneja, who was the captain of the Lion Air plane, reacting to the crash. Biplov Bhuyan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

According to the timeline, this is not yet in response to the MCAS system which will ultimately force the plane to crash.

6.23 a.m., 39 seconds: The cockpit voice recorder picks up a sound of pages turning, suggesting the pilots looked at a manual. The captain turned the aircraft nose up.

Rescue personnel prepare to dive at the location where a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea. Reuters

6.23 a.m., 48 seconds: The first officer gave the warning “flight control low pressure” — which appears to refer to pressure in the hydraulic systems that control the plane. Separately, an altitude warning sounds.

The cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max plane. Associated Press

6.24 a.m., 5 seconds: The captain again asked for a checklist of what to do when the plane’s airspeed recorders can’t be relied on, but the first officer said he could not find it. The cockpit voice recorder again picked up the sound of pages turning.

Belongings from passengers. Eddy Purwanto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

6.24 a.m., 52 seconds: The plane’s flaps changed position, though the cockpit voice recorder did not any note any discussion about changing them. The controller gave instructions to change the plane’s direction and altitude. The captain turned the plane’s nose up.

Lion Air planes. Reuters

6.25 a.m., 11 seconds: The plane’s flaps changed position, again without discussion between the pilots.

Shoes of passengers of Lion Air flight JT610 were laid out at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta. REUTERS/Beawiharta

6.25 a.m., 27 seconds: The plane’s MCAS system begins to activate. In six and a half minutes time it will have crashed the plane. First. it pushes the nose down for two seconds. The captain interrupted it, pushing the nose up for six seconds.

MCAS and its failings are now well-known in the aviation world. But many 737 Max pilots say they had no idea it even existed until after the crashes. It probably took the two Lion Air pilots totally by surprise.

Boeing 737 Max planes under construction. Reuters

MCAS was meant to stop the 737 Max from stalling, counteracting a tendency for the nose to drift upwards by forcing it back down.

Boeing did not mention the MCAS system – what it is or how to manage any malfunctions – in the flight manual for pilots.

6.25 a.m., 40 seconds: MCAS activated six times in the next two minutes, pushing the plane’s nose down until the captain interrupted it.

Rescue team members carry a body bag with the remains of a passenger of Lion Air flight JT610. REUTERS/Stringer

6.27 a.m., 3 seconds: The controller told the plane to change direction to avoid traffic in the air. The first officer, still reading the checklist for how to deal with bad airspeed readings, did not respond until the third time.

Families and colleagues of victims cry. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

The cockpit voice recorder showed that the pilots frantically read through the manual for a solution as the plane went out of control.

6.27 a.m., 15 seconds: MCAS activated four more times in the next minute and was overridden by the captain again. The first officer said he would run a check based on the list he had been reading.

6.28 a.m., 18 seconds: The first officer called a flight attendant into the cockpit, and the captain then asked him to call for an airline engineer who was on board to come in. MCAS activated twice more, and the captain said: “Look what happened.”

Policemen wait fo help tie up a navy ship bringing further wreckage of Lion Air flight JT 610. Ed Wray/Getty Images

6.28 a.m., 43 seconds: The controller gave more instructions for the direction and altitude of the plane, while a conversation between flight attendants “discussed that there was a technical issue in the cockpit.”. MCAS activated three more times in less than a minute.

A relative of Lion Air passengers prays as she and others wait for news at at Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia. AP Photo/Hadi Sutrisno

6.29 a.m., 37 seconds: The controller told the crew that his radar screen showed the plane descending, and the first officer responded to say that they were having a flight control problem and were flying the plane manually. MCAS activated twice more.

Families of the victims of Lion Air flight JT 610 look for their relatives’ belongings in October 2018. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

6.30 a.m., 2 seconds: The first officer contacted a different air traffic controller, the one in charge of arrivals at Soekarno-Hatta airport. He said the plane was having a flight control problem. The controller told the plane to come back to the runway it took off from.

People watch rescue team members on a boat as they head to the Lion Air plane sea crash location. REUTERS/Beawiharta

6.30 a.m., 6 seconds: MCAS activated three more times in less than a minute, with the captain overriding it.

An Indonesian rescue team member points out the spot on a map where Lion Air flight JT610 crashed into the sea REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

6.30 a.m., 48 seconds: The captain asked the first officer to take control. The first officer pushed the plane’s nose up, and said 5 seconds later: “I have control.”

Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo inspects the recovered debris of Lion Air flight JT610. REUTERS/Edgar Su

6.30 a.m., 57 seconds: The captain asked the arrival controller for permission to land the plane at a different location, away from the airport, because of the weather. The request was approved.

Officials displaying part of the crashed plane’s flight recorder. PRADITA UTAMA/AFP/Getty Images

6.31 a.m., 8 seconds: The captain told the controller that he could not work out his altitude because the sensors were giving so many different readings. Seemingly flustered, he referred to the flight as number 650 instead of 610.

Families of the victims of Lion Air flight JT 610, visit an operations centre to look for personal items of their relatives in October 2018. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

6.31 a.m., 15 seconds: The first officer repeatedly pointed the plane’s nose up. MCAS activated twice in the next twelve seconds.

Families and colleagues of victims of Lion Air flight JT 610 cry on the deck of a Navy Ship at the crash site in November 2018. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

6.31 a.m., 19 seconds: The captain asked the controller to clear all planes from 3,000 feet above and below the plane to avoid any collisions.

Engine wreckage from the Lion Air plane. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

6.33 a.m, 31 seconds: The first officer twice told the captain that the plane was flying downwards. The second time, the captain said “it’s OK.” The plane was descending relatively gently, at around 1,920 feet per minute. MCAS activated again.

Personal items from Lion Air flight JT 610. Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

6.31 a.m, 46 seconds: Only a few seconds later, the plane’s rate of descent increases rapidly. Black box readings show it descending at more than 10,000ft per minute, giving them only seconds to avoid hitting the sea.

Family members of the crashed Indonesian Lion Air JT-610 react at Pangkal Pinang airport in October 2018. HADI SUTRISNO/AFP/Getty Images

6.31 a.m., 51: Five seconds later, the plane warns of its rapid descent and the approaching sea. There is almost no time left.

Debris from Lion Air flight JT 610 floats in the sea. ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images

6.31 a.m, 53 seconds: MCAS activated for a final time. One second later, the flight record and cockpit voice recorder stop working. Air traffic control tries six times to contact the pilots, to no response. Other planes in the area are asked to try to see what happened.

Family members of the crashed Indonesian Lion Air JT-610 react at Pangkal Pinang airport. HADI SUTRISNO/AFP/Getty Images

7.05 a.m.: Around half an hour later, a tugboat found debris that was later found to be part of the plane. The crash is confirmed. There are no survivors.

A wallet belonging to a passenger of the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in Indonesia in October 2018. ARIF ARIADI/AFP/Getty Images