Sensors were misfiring on the almost new Boeing Co.
The airline, which also operates Batik Air and Wings Air, has a dubious safety record, though, and has had more accidents than other airlines in the country.
Once the jet was airborne, the pilots appeared to have been overwhelmed, said another of the crash investigators, Ony Suryo Wibowo.
Investigators have previously said the doomed aircraft had problems with its airspeed indicator and angle of attack (AoA) sensors, prompting Boeing to issue a special bulletin telling operators what to do when they face the same situation.
The NTSC investigation shows that throughout the flight faulty sensors were feeding the system incorrect readings and the pilots were continually battling to prevent it from forcing the nose of the plane down right up until the crash. It is flown or is on order by close to 40 airlines, with Lion Air in the process of receiving more than 200 of the jets.
"Had they fixed the airplane, we would not have had the accident", he said.
Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee released a preliminary report on the Lion Air jet crash on Wednesday.
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Now, Boeing denies this, but they did issue some safety orders updating the information about the system nearly immediately after this plane crash and telling pilots what corrective actions they should take.
While officials did not lay blame or pinpoint a definitive cause of the October 29 accident, they said the budget carrier must take steps "to improve (its) safety culture".
"It's all consistent with the hypothesis of this problem with the MCAS system", said R. John Hansman Jr., a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of the worldwide center for air transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The sensor failures expanded to include what's known as angle of attack, a measure of whether the plane's nose is pointed above or below the airflow, on the day before the crash.
There were other issues pervading the aircraft, pertaining to its airspeed and altitude sensors, the report noted. One safety system pushes the nose of the plane down if it senses the nose is pointed too high and the plane is in danger.
Stick shaker activation is "very distracting and unnerving", former Boeing flight control engineer Peter Lemme told Reuters. It is not clear whether the pilots of Flight 610 tried that procedure.
Nurcahyo said that the MCAS system had been activated and that it was a central focus of the investigation.
The US and European Union flight bans have been lifted in recent years, but the industry is still wrestling with outdated infrastructure, accusations of cutting corners and heavy restrictions on hiring pilots and technicians from overseas to plug staff gaps. This plane had trouble before, this exact problem with this sensor. The report repeats recommendations that pilots be better versed in emergency procedures aware of past aircraft problems.
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The Commission's chief said investigators are trying to understand why engineers had judged the plane to be airworthy.
The measures recommended by the regulator put Indonesia's patchy aviation safety record back in the spotlight.
Even though the angle-of-attack sensor seems to be at the center of the confusing alarms and the final dive before the crash, the pilots on the October 28 flight showed that it could be overcome.
INSKEEP:.Pushing the plane down. He told the Associated Press that the plane's nose went down and pilots pulled it back up 26 times during its 11 minutes in the air.
But, according to the preliminary report, problems continued. The KNKT says this is "considered as un-airworthy". "Is this true? If it's like that, it seems that the report is finished".
Information from the recovered black box showed that the pilots struggled with a safety system that was broken. Pilots at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines complained this month that they had not been given all information about the new automated anti-stall safety system on the MAX.
Lion Air CEO Sirait said the airline would comply with KNKT's recommendations which included ensuring pilots made the proper decision on whether to continue a flight.
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"We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX", the company said.