Everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 Max airplane crashes (2023)

The crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 have rocked the aviation industry, sparked numerous investigations, and resulted in the grounding of hundreds of Boeing 737 Max jets worldwide.

As this important story continues to unfold, The Verge will update this page with all the latest news and analysis. Our hope is to answer all your questions about these tragic events, as well as provide a real-time feed of news about the ensuing investigations.

Table of contents:

  • What happened?
  • What was the response?
  • What caused the crashes?
  • What is MCAS?
  • Were pilots adequately trained?
  • What about the FAA’s certification?
  • What happens next?

What happened?

Lion Air Flight 610 took offfromJakarta, Indonesia on Monday, October 29th, 2018, at 6:20AM local time. Its destination wasPangkal Pinang, the largest city of Indonesia’s Bangka Belitung Islands. Twelve minutes after takeoff, the plane crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

Nearly five months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took offfromAddis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday, March 10th, 2019, at 8:38AM local time. Its destination wasNairobi, Kenya. Six minutes after takeoff, the plane crashed near the town ofBishoftu, Ethiopia, killing all 157 people aboard.

Both crashed jets were Boeing 737 Max 8s, a variant of the best-selling aircraft in history. When Airbus announced in 2010 it would make a new fuel-efficient and cost-effective plane, Boeing rushed to get out its own version. That version was the 737 Max airplanes. The Air Current has a great (if slightly insider-y) retelling of the Max jets’ origins.

Everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 Max airplane crashes (1)

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

What was the response?

The Indonesian rescue team located theflight data recorderon November 1st. Thecockpit voice recorderwas found over two months later, on January 14th, 2019. One member of the volunteer rescue team died during recovery operations. Both thecockpit voice recorderand theflight data recorderof Ethiopian Airlines 302 were recovered from the crash site on March 11th.

(Video) Boeing – what caused the 737 Max to crash? | DW Documentary

Both crashes are currently under investigation. These are the only two accidents involving the new Boeing 737 Max series of aircraft, which was first introduced in 2017. Since the crash of Ethiopian Airlines 302, more than 300 Boeing 737 Max passenger jets have been grounded worldwide.

But the US was slower to act than other countries. As China and the European Union announced their decision to ground the plane, the FAA declined to act. PresidentTrump initially responded bytweeting on March 12ththat airplanes had become too complex. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” Trump said in a series of tweets that didn’t specifically reference Boeing or the crashes. “Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain.”

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburgreportedly spoke to Trumpthat same day, urging him not to ground the Max 8. But on Wednesday, March 13th, Trump eventually bowed to pressure, directing the FAA to ground the plane. But the president also praised Boeing in the same breath, calling it “a great, great company with a track record that is so phenomenal.”

Boeing maintains that the new, more fuel efficient Max jets are safe, but supports the FAA’s decision to ground the planes. The Chicago-based company has stopped delivery of all new Max jets to its customers. Stock losses have wiped around $28 billion from its market value since the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 Max airplane crashes (2)

What caused these crashes?

Both crashes are currently under investigation, and there is no final word on what caused either tragedy. But investigators are focused on a specific tech feature that may have forced both planes into a nosedive seconds before the crashes.

A preliminary report from Indonesian investigators indicates that Lion Air 610 crashed because a faulty sensor erroneously reported that the airplane was stalling. The false report triggeredan automated systemknown as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. This system tried to point the aircraft’s nose down so that it could gain enough speed to fly safely.

a faulty sensor erroneously reported that the airplane was stalling

(Video) The real reason Boeing's new plane crashed twice

MCAS takes readings from two sensors that determine how much the plane’s nose is pointing up or down relative to oncoming airflow. When MCAS detects that the plane is pointing up at a dangerous angle, it can automatically push down the nose of the plane in an effort to prevent the plane from stalling.

Investigators have found strong similarities in the angle of attack data from both flights. A piece of a stabilizer in the wreckage of the Ethiopian jet with the trim set in an unusual position was similar to that of the Lion Air plane, Reuters reports.

Everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 Max airplane crashes (3)

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

What is MCAS?

Boeing says the decision to include this change to the flight control operations wasn’t arbitrary. When the company designed the Max jets, it made the engines larger to increase fuel efficiency, and positioned them slightly forward and higher up on the plane’s wings.

These tweaks changed how the jet handled in certain situations. The relocated engines caused the jet’s nose to pitch skyward. To compensate, Boeing added a computerized system called MCAS to prevent the plane’s nose from getting too high and causing a stall. MCAS is unique to the Max jets, and isn’t present in other Boeing 737s. The Air Current has a great illustration of how MCAS works here. And The New York Times has a video that explains how MCAS is supposed to work.

MCAS is activated without the pilot’s input, which has led to some frustration among pilots

MCAS is activated without the pilot’s input, which has led to some frustration among pilots of the 737 Max jet. At least half a dozen pilots have reported being caught off guard by sudden descents in the aircraft, according to the Dallas News. One pilot said it was “unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA, and the airlines would have pilots flying an airplane without adequately training, or even providing available resources and sufficient documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differentiate this aircraft from prior models,” according to an incident report filed with a NASA database.

Both jets that crashed lacked safety features that could have provided crucial information to the crew because they were sold as options by Boeing, according to The New York Times. This was previously reported by Jon Ostrower on The Air Current, who said that a warning light that would have alerted the crew to a disagreement between the Max jet’s angle of attack sensors wasn’t part of Lion Air’s optional package of equipment. According to the Times:

For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons.

Sometimes these optional features involve aesthetics or comfort, like premium seating, fancy lighting or extra bathrooms. But other features involve communication, navigation or safety systems, and are more fundamental to the plane’s operations.

(Video) 737 MAX crashes | How Boeing and the FAA failed the aviation industry

Boeing will stop charging extra for one of the safety features, a source tells the Times: the disagree light that was missing from both crashed jets, which would have activated if the angle of attack sensors were at odds with each other. That feature will now come standard in all new 737 Max planes.

Everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 Max airplane crashes (4)

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Were pilots given adequate training?

Short answer: no. When the Max jet was under development, regulators determined that pilots could fly the planes without extensive retraining because they were essentially the same as previous generations, according to The New York Times. This saved Boeing a lot of money on extra training, which aided the company in its competition with Airbus to introduce newer, more fuel-efficient airplanes. The FAA didn’t change those rules after Lion Air 610 crashed.

So rather than hours-long training sessions in giant, multimillion-dollar simulators, many pilots instead learned about the 737’s new features on an iPad. Pilots at United Airlines put together a 13-page guide to the 737 Max, which did not mention the MCAS.

According to Reuters, the doomed Lion Air cockpit voice recorder revealed how pilots scoured a manual in a losing battle to figure out why they were hurtling down to sea.

Since the crash of Ethiopian Airlines 302, that’s mostly changed. On Sunday, March 17th, Muilenburgissued a statementdescribing steps the company was taking to update its technology. “While investigators continue to work to establish definitive conclusions, Boeing is finalizing its development of a previously-announced software update and pilot training revision that will address the MCAS flight control law’s behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs,” Muilenburg said.

(Video) Boeing 737 Max 8: All you need to know - TomoNews

What about the FAA’s certification?

The approval process for Boeing’s Max jetliners was rushed and possibly compromised, according to a blockbuster report in The Seattle Times. Reporter Dominic Gates found that FAA managers pushed the agency’s engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing and to speedily approve the resulting analysis. Under pressure to approve its new Max jets so it could catch up to Airbus, Boeing turned in a safety assessment to the FAA that was riddled with errors, theTimesreported.

“There was constant pressure to re-evaluate our initial decisions,” the former [FAA] engineer said. “And even after we had reassessed it … there was continued discussion by management about delegating even more items down to the Boeing Company.”

Even the work that was retained, such as reviewing technical documents provided by Boeing, was sometimes curtailed.

“There wasn’t a complete and proper review of the documents,” the former engineer added. “Review was rushed to reach certain certification dates.”

The Department of Transportation’s inspector general is probing the FAA’s approval of the Max jets. The DOT’s investigation is focused on the FAA’s Seattle office, which certifies the safety of new aircraft. A subpoena seeking documents from the office, including emails, correspondence, and other messages has been issued, TheWall Street Journalreports.

The FBI is joining the mix of agencies investigating the crashes and their aftermath. According to The Seattle Times, the agency will lend its considerable resources to DOT agents probing the FAA’s certification of the Max jets.

What happens next?

The crash investigations are still ongoing. We have yet to hear any information from Ethiopian Airlines 302’s black box beyond initial (and vague) reports about similarities to Lion Air 610. More details should emerge soon.

The US Senate will convene a hearing on the FAA’s certification of Boeing 737 Max jets on March 27th, Reuters reports. Boeing executives and officials from the FAA will be called to testify at the first congressional hearing on the twin crashes. They will likely be asked why the regulator agreed to certify the Max planes in 2017 without requiring extensive additional pilot training.

On March 19th, Trump named Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive, as his choice to become the permanent head of theFAA. Dickson will no doubt face stiff questioning during his confirmation process, as more details about the agency’s certification of the Max jets trickle out.

Boeingand the FAA are currently at odds over how much pilot training will be required

(Video) 8 Lessons Pilots can Learn from the Boeing 737 MAX Crashes and the MCAS + GA News

Boeingand the FAA are currently at odds over how much pilot training will be required in conjunction with a comingsoftware fix for MCAS, according to The Wall Street Journal. The FAA says it is keeping a close eye on Boeing’s software update that is intended to correct problems with MCAS, CNBC reports.

Indonesian officials held a briefing early on Thursday, at which they confirmed reports that an off-duty pilot was in the cockpit of the doomed Lion Air plane the day before the crash. According to Bloomberg, the plane experienced a similar malfunction that caused it to nosedive, but the off-duty pilot correctly diagnosed the problem and helped the crew disable the flight-control system and save the plane. The next day, the plane was under a completely different crew when it experienced the same problem, causing it to crash into the Java Sea.

Meanwhile, experts are questioning the legality of documents that the families of Lion Air 610’s victims say they are being pressured into signing, according to The New York Times. In order to collect payments of 1.3 billion rupiah, or $91,600, families are being required to sign a pledge promising not to pursue legal action against Lion Air, its financial backers, and Boeing. The pledge appears to violate Indonesian law.

FAQs

Should I be worried about flying on a Boeing 737 Max? ›

By endorsement of the FAA, Boeing and its pilots, the 737 MAX has been determined as safe to fly. But safe pilots fly planes safely and part of being a safe pilot is being well-trained and well-informed as to the full functionality of an aircraft's systems.

How many 737 MAXs crashed? ›

Much less clear, however, is whether, in its next generation of aircraft, Boeing can avoid the cascade of errors, shortcuts and management failures that led to 346 deaths in two 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 — blamed in part on the plane's flight-control system.

What is the reason for Boeing 737 MAX crash? ›

It's been widely reported that Boeing's decision to use a flight control software fix known as MCAS in its 737 MAX planes was one of the key factors that led to two crashes that killed 346 people.

What really happened to Boeing 737 Max? ›

Two crashes of virtually new Boeing 737 MAXs just over four months apart were each initiated by a single malfunctioning sensor. In both cases, that trigger left the pilots in a deadly struggle against a new flight control system that ultimately forced their jet into a nose dive.

What if I don't want to fly on a 737 MAX? ›

An easy way, for now, to avoid the 737-MAX is to figure out which airlines are flying the plane, and when. If you don't want to fly it, the simplest solution would be to choose another airline. Here's the airlines with firm orders, or letters of intent to fly the 737 MAX, many of which have already been delivered.

Can passengers refuse to fly 737 MAX? ›

“We know that restoring our customers' confidence in this aircraft will come with time and importantly, transparency and flexibility,” said American Airlines chief operating officer David Seymour in a message to the carrier's employees. “If a customer doesn't want to fly on the 737 MAX, they won't have to.

Is Boeing 737 MAX a good plane? ›

“The 737 MAX fleet has operated for 1.8 million flight hours – about 800,000 flights – since November 2020. Fleet reliability is above 99.5% - that is actually where the Next-Generation 737 was at, so it's on par with the airplane it's replaced.” Schedule reliability of 99.5% is an impressive number indeed.

What airlines still fly the 737 MAX? ›

581 active Boeing 737 MAXs
AirlineMAX 8MAX 9
United Airlines1630
American Airlines40
Aeromexico2610
Air Canada34
12 more rows
14 May 2022

Which 737 plane has crashed the most? ›

The Boeing 737 MAX passenger airliner was grounded worldwide between March 2019 and December 2020 – longer in many jurisdictions – after 346 people died in two crashes: Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019.

Who was blamed for 737 MAX? ›

Cost-cutting, corporate arrogance, and a new plane that was supposed to be easy to fly. An exclusive excerpt from Flying Blind: The 737 Max Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing.

Who was responsible for the 737 MAX crashes? ›

As Boeing admitted in court documents, Boeing—through two of its 737 MAX Flight Technical Pilots—deceived the FAA AEG about an important aircraft part called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that impacted the flight control system of the Boeing 737 MAX.

Which version of the 737 MAX is grounded? ›

Older 737 models, like the 737-700, 737-800 and 737-900, don't use MCAS and weren't affected. Of the four 737 Max versions, only the Max 10 has yet to fly.

Is 737 MAX 8 safe to fly now? ›

We are fully confident in the safety of the 737 MAX, in the updates, and in the work technicians performed while these planes were on the ground: Updating the plane with the latest FAA-approved flight deck software. Rewiring the aircraft. Opening and inspecting the fuel tanks.

Do pilots like the 737 MAX? ›

Union officials indicate that pilots like the Max and are confident in the changes from Boeing. Representatives of three unions said that crews were largely happy with the plane and added that, except at a select few airlines, training backlogs were the biggest challenge to getting more pilots in the cockpit.

How do I know if im on a 737 MAX? ›

Check the plane markings

Not all airlines place these markings on their aircraft and some airlines also may not include the Max name, simply writing "737" instead. If that's the case, a quick Google search of the registration number will also quickly identify whether the plane is a 737 Max.

Can a pilot refuse a plane? ›

The simplistic answer is usually that a pilot and/or an airline has the “discretion” to deny boarding or even to kick you off the plane. Such action would be based, presumably, on 49 USC 44902(b): “Permissive Refusal.

Which US airlines do not fly 737 MAX? ›

See our guide on how to book a flight and avoid the Boeing 737 MAX.
...
This means that the following US carriers aren't using the Boeing 737 MAX on their flights:
  • Allegiant Air.
  • Delta.
  • Frontier Airlines.
  • Avelo Airlines.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • JetBlue.
  • Spirit Airlines.
  • Sun Country Airlines.

Were families compensated for the 737 MAX crashes? ›

The January 2021 agreement included a $500 million compensation fund for victims' relatives, $1.77 billion in compensation to the airlines and a $243 million criminal fine.

Is the 737 MAX 8 safe to fly now? ›

We are fully confident in the safety of the 737 MAX, in the updates, and in the work technicians performed while these planes were on the ground: Updating the plane with the latest FAA-approved flight deck software. Rewiring the aircraft. Opening and inspecting the fuel tanks.

Do pilots like the 737 MAX? ›

Union officials indicate that pilots like the Max and are confident in the changes from Boeing. Representatives of three unions said that crews were largely happy with the plane and added that, except at a select few airlines, training backlogs were the biggest challenge to getting more pilots in the cockpit.

Is 737 MAX unstable? ›

The Boeing 737 MAX is an aerodynamically unstable aircraft that is enhanced via MCAS to prevent stalling. This instability is caused by the higher thrust, location and geometry of the CFM LEAP 1B turbofans used on the Boeing 737 MAX.

Are Boeing 737 MAX still grounded? ›

Since the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX was lifted in November 2020, the airplane has made a strident return to the fleets of dozens of airlines around the globe.

Is the Boeing 737 800 Max safe? ›

According to experts, the model (737-800) is considered to be the safest aircraft ever made. The 737-800 belongs to the aviation giant's next-generation aircraft which also includes 600, 700, and 900.

What airlines are using Boeing 737 Max? ›

581 active Boeing 737 MAXs
AirlineMAX 8MAX 9
United Airlines1630
American Airlines40
Aeromexico2610
Air Canada34
12 more rows
14 May 2022

Is Boeing safer than Airbus? ›

Which is safer: Boeing or Airbus? But this question is not really relevant, since both Boeing and Airbus have remarkably similar safety records. The differences between Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier are minor, all of them being more dangerous than Embraer but far safer than ATR or Sukhoi.

Who flies the most 737 MAX? ›

1. Southwest Airlines - Unites States. Leading the pack with 69 aircraft is the airline that inspired the Ryanair we know today, Southwest Airlines. All 69 of the airlines MAXs are from the -8 family.

What pilot kills the most air to air? ›

Erich Hartmann, with 352 official kills the highest scoring fighter pilot of all time.

Do pilots stay up the whole flight? ›

The simple answer is yes, pilots do and are allowed to sleep during flight but there are strict rules controlling this practice. Pilots would only normally sleep on long haul flights, although sleep on short haul flights is permitted to avoid the effects of fatigue.

What is the most unstable plane? ›

The December 14, 1984, test flight of the X-29—the most aerodynamically unstable aircraft ever built—demonstrated forward-swept wing technology for supersonic fighter aircraft for the first time.

Is Boeing 737 safe now? ›

Boeing and some independent safety experts argue that the existing system has been proved safe over decades of use in the 737 family. Making such substantial changes to a complex system would also require thorough testing and costly retraining for pilots, many of whom have years of experience on 737 aircraft.

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