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The pilots of a doomed Lion Air Boeing 737 Max scoured a handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downward, but ran out of time before it hit the water, three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents said.

The investigation into the crash, which killed all 189 people on board in October, has taken on new relevance after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators grounded the model last week following a second deadly accident in Ethiopia.

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