Saved by a dead-head pilot

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

The day before that Lion Air Boeing 737 Max crashed, it almost crashed:

As the Lion Air crew fought to control their diving Boeing Co. 737 Max 8, they got help from an unexpected source: an off-duty pilot who happened to be riding in the cockpit.

That extra pilot, who was seated in the cockpit jumpseat, correctly diagnosed the problem and told the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system and save the plane, according to two people familiar with Indonesia’s investigation.

The next day, under command of a different crew facing what investigators said was an identical malfunction, the jetliner crashed into the Java Sea killing all 189 aboard.


  1. Kirk says:

    There is no substitute for an experienced and proficient human in a crisis. Engineering can only go so far, and when you hit the limit-stops, you need competent human intervention. Period.

  2. CVLR says:

    I’ve long thought about the enduring fascination of journalists with the mishaps of aviation. I guess there’s something about the sky that captures the human imagination in a special way. And then there’s the disaster angle.

    But what I’m really getting here is that this was a massive fuck-up on the part of the airline, not the manufacturer.

    Kirk, the computers are already much more reliable than any human.

    And also keep in mind that that software was probably written thirty years ago, before the Internet, before version control, in ADA, by underpaid, overworked, underloved engineer-dudes toiling in the bowels of Boeing itself.

    The certification process is hellish, but sooner or later something written in this century by really top-flight minds is going to get past the FAA and it’s going blow your socks right out of your skull.

  3. Sam J. says:

    It’s Boeings fault completely. Dangerous things, like airplanes, should follow the path of “least astonishment” and not do weird stuff.

    If you really want to be horrified about Boeing read this guys blog who used to be a quality control inspector there. To meet production they’re using failed and defective parts.

    The Boeing of old is NOT the Boeing of now. The pencil pushers, spreadsheet mafia have taken over and all they know it what’s on the spreadsheet. This is a pattern. A guy or group of people make great advances in product development and then a bunch of frat boy business types take over the company and drive it into the ground because technically they are idiots and if it isn’t on their spreadsheet…well it doesn’t exist. This happens over and over. Remember the GM fiasco where they saved a small amount on the ignition switch then it cost them mutimillions to pay off it killing people. Another GM FU was killing the electric car they had. With a little work they could have dominated the market.

    Look at Lockheed Martin. When I heard about the mismanagement there I had a idea so I checked…yep, the company is run by a Female who used to run a bread company. Now this is a honorable job but what the hell is she doing running a major company involved in super advanced tech? She’s out of her depth. HP did the same. Drove the company right into a ditch.

    All tech businesses should be run by STEM people who then go to business school. You could get all the business school knowledge you needed in about 6 months.

    That being said engineers frequently make mistakes by over engineering things and not making do with what they have at hand while the business types typically don’t engineer enough.

  4. CVLR says:


    Flight envelope protection is in most airliners these days, as far as I know.

    The fact of the matter in this particular case (which I know from like two news articles) is that this thing happened and they almost died and then it happened the next day and they did die. Now, if it had been discovered that those two events had happened to two DIFFERENT airplanes of the same type, I’d be with you. But since it happened to the SAME airplane, the colossal failure here is clearly on the part of the airline. The airplane should have been grounded.

    Nevertheless, I suspect you’re right on Boeing and Q&A, and I know you’re right on the pandemic typified by Mrs. Bread CEO.

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