Ethiopian air crash investigators begin black box analysis

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Air crash investigators have begun analysing the black box data recorder from Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, amid reports that the plane wreckage suggested similarities with a previous disaster involving the Boeing 737 Max jet.

Accounts have also emerged of communications between the plane and air traffic control, in which the pilot is said to have asked in panicked tones to turn back three minutes into the flight, as the 737 Max dipped and climbed.

The black box recorder, which arrived in Paris showing some external damage, is being reviewed by French aviation experts at the request of Ethiopian Airlines. French authorities have said it was unclear what data could be retrieved to shed light on Sunday’s crash, which killed 157 people outside Addis Ababa. It could be several days before any interim findings are released.

Evidence gathered by investigators at the scene of the crash, according to two sources cited by Reuters, includes a piece of the plane’s stabiliser, which was set in an unusual position – potentially suggesting similarities with the Lion Air crash off Jakarta in October. Inquiries in Indonesia have focused on how an automated system used the stabiliser to pitch the nose down, against the pilots’ commands. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing declined to comment on the claims.

The captain of Ethiopian flight 302, Yared Getachew, reported a “flight control” problem in a calm voice, before then asking to return in panicked tones three minutes after takeoff, according to the New York Times. The newspaper, citing a source who had reviewed the communications from flight 302, said the pilot told controllers: “Break break, request back to home.”

The 737 Max jet initially dipped below the safe flight path, and then, after climbing, flew at erratic height and speed. Controllers noticed the plane was moving up and down by hundreds of feet.

When grounding the 737 Max model on Wednesday, the FAA said new data from satellite-based tracking showed similarities between the planes’ erratic movements in both crashes. Boeing has reiterated its “full confidence” in the safety of the plane, although its engineers are making changes to the software in question in the Lion Air crash.

Ethiopian Airlines said its pilots had been trained on procedures to deal with the 737 Max’s anti-stall system, which was the subject of an emergency notification by regulators after the Lion Air crash. Pilots in the US have expressed fury that Boeing had not already highlighted system changes that could affect the plane’s behaviour.

Delivery of the new plane, with almost 5,000 models still on order, has been paused, although Boeing is continuing production. Russian carrier Aeroflot said on Friday it may cancel its order for 20 planes. Air Canada, which planned to expand from 24 to 36 737 Max planes in its fleet this year, told investors it was suspending its financial forecasts without the more fuel-efficient jets.

Who were the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash?

In Ethiopia, officials have started taking DNA samples from families of the victims to assist in identifying remains. The 157 people who died came from 35 countries, including nine from the UK. At the crash site in Hejere, about 30 miles from Addis Ababa, search teams continued to pick through the debris, with the plane’s wreckage covered by blue plastic sheeting.

Relatives were still waiting for news on when identification of remains would begin, and subsequent repatriation. Faysal Hussein, an Ethiopian citizen whose cousin was killed, told the Associated Press: “We are not told what they have found so far. We were taken to the crash site on Wednesday but not allowed to get a closer look.”

Pauline Gathu, a Kenyan who lost her brother, said: “We were expecting that we will have our body well-kept but we are amazed to hear that there is nothing, totally nothing … We don’t have words, we don’t know what to do.”

Ethiopian Airlines crash



Air transport


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