Boeing 737 jets grounded globally as officials investigate technical issues behind fatal crash
|National Post 11 Mar 2019 at 10:50|
When the Ethiopian Airlines flight took off Sunday, trouble appeared to begin almost immediately. The pilots told air traffic controllers that they were experiencing technical problems all while the plane gained and lost altitude repeatedly before taking the final, fatal plunge.
Authorities recovered the black box but it was partially damaged, an airline official said. “We will see what we can retrieve from it.”
Ethiopian Airlines announced Monday it would ground the model aircraft that was involved in a devastating crash that killed everyone on board just minutes after takeoff, following the lead of Chinese aviation authorities.
A national day of mourning has been declared in Ethiopia and investigators are sifting through the crash site to identify remains so they can ultimately be repatriated to the families.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration said in a statement early Monday that it had asked domestic airlines to temporarily ground all Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets before 6 p.m. It was the first time China had taken the lead in ordering a model grounded before other national aviation agencies.
Cayman Airways also suspended the use of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, the latest version of the industry’s most popular passenger airline.
Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement that the fleet would be grounded “as extra safety precaution.”
The same plane model crashed shortly after takeoff in October in Indonesia, raising concerns about the aircraft. “So there might be a technical issue on this breed of aircraft so even though the investigation is not yet done, we decided to ground them for a while for technical checkup,” airline spokesman Binyamin Demesse said.
A graphic showing how the stall feature works on the aircraft and how the Ethiopia Airlines flight lost control. Graphic News
The company’s chief executive, Tewolde Gebremariam, said Sunday there were six planes in the fleet and initially the decision had been not to suspend them.
That changed following China’s order, which affected hundreds of flights there. Some 13 carriers operate more than 90 of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, according to domestic media.
“There were certain similarities in the fact that two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft, and they both occurred in the take off phase,” the Chinese agency said in a statement referring to the crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. All planes of that model would be grounded until further notice according to Chinese policies allowing “zero tolerance for safety hazards” and risks, the agency said, adding that it would also contact the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing for consultation.
A spokeswoman for Boeing China said the company was staying in touch with all of its customers and government regulators and working closely with the investigation team in Ethiopia to understand the cause of the crash.
In Vietnam, meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority said it would not license the use of the Max plane in the country pending the results of investigations and remedial measures. While there are currently no Max 8 aircraft in use in Vietnam, budget airline VietJet Air ordered 100 Boeing 737 Max aircraft in February, including 20 of the Max 8 version, at the same time that President Donald Trump was meeting with Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi.
An Air China Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet sits at an airport. China has suspended the use of all its Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets following an investigation into the technical faults that killed 157 people on board an Ethiopian Airline flight. GREG BAKER / AFP
In Morocco and Mongolia, authorities suspended operation of Boeing 737 Max 8 planes flying in each country, news agencies reported. Royal Air Maroc had two of the airlines in service and two others on order. Mongolia reportedly had one of the planes in service.
In the United States, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines expressed confidence in their Boeing planes and crew members. “Our fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are operating as planned today and we plan to operate those aircraft going forward,” Southwest said in a statement. American said it has “full confidence in the aircraft and our crew members.”
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed just six minutes after takeoff, killing 149 passengers and eight crew members. In its short flight, data shows the plane ascending then descending and then ascending again sharply while accelerating to speeds in excess of what is standard during a take off.
The pilot asked to return to Addis Ababa because he was experiencing difficulties.
In the case of the Indonesian Lion Air flight, pilots wrestled with the plane because a faulty sensor and automatic feature sent its nose pointing down while the pilots struggled to lift the plane up. They also requested to return to the airport shortly before plunging into the Java Sea.
People stand near collected debris at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines on March 11, 2019. MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images
The pilot has been identified as Yared Getachew, 28, of Addis Ababa. According to a statement issued by relatives in Northern Virginia, Getachew had 8,000 hours of flight time and was the youngest pilot in Ethiopian Airlines history to captain a Boeing 737.
Half Kenyan and half Ethiopian, Getachew had long requested the Nairobi route so he could visit family. Associates describe him as funny, energetic, charismatic and popular. Though young, he was described by the company as a senior pilot.
The passenger list for the Ethiopian flight included a staggering 35 different nationalities from all over the world, including 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians and eight Americans. Many were involved in humanitarian work and attending a United Nations environmental conference in Nairobi.
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest airline in terms of destinations and passengers served. It has ambitions of serving as the gateway to Africa and is widely seen as one of the best managed airlines on the continent.
It serves more than 100 destinations, including Washington, New York and Chicago.
The airline’s last major crash was in 2010, when an aircraft caught fire and plunged into the Mediterranean after taking off from Beirut’s airport, killing all 90 people on board. Bad weather and a technical fault were cited.
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