Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 crashes minutes after take-off, killing all 157 on board
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft was in the air for about six minutes before it crashed on Sunday, 10 March 2019, killing 157 people from 35 countries. The aircraft that took off from Addis Ababa was en route to Nairobi. The pilot alerted controllers “he had difficulties” and wanted to turn back the plane carrying 157 people, the head of Ethiopian Airlines said. The pilot “was given clearance” to return to Addis, chief executive officer Tewolde GebreMariam told journalists in the Ethiopian capital when asked whether there had been a distress call.
At the same time, people with passports from 35 countries and the United Nations were on the Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 that crashed, Ethiopian Airlines said. Kenya had the largest number of casualties with 32, followed by Canada with 18, Ethiopia with nine, then Italy, China and the United States with eight each, CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told reporters in Addis Ababa. Britain and France each had seven people on board, Egypt six, the Netherlands five and India four. Four were UN passport-holders.
Three Austrian physicians, the co-founder of an international aid organisation, a career ambassador, the wife and children of a Slovak legislator and a Nigerian-born Canadian college professor, author and satirist were among the deceased.
Greek passenger Antonis Mavropoulos would have been on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 but just missed the fatal flight after he arrived 2 minutes late.
Ethiopian Airlines crash is second disaster involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 in months. For the second time in less than six months, a brand-new Boeing aircraft has crashed just minutes into a flight. The tragedy follows the Lion Air flight that went down over the Java Sea in late October, killing all 189 people on board. There is no suggestion yet as to what caused the latest disaster and no evidence that the two incidents are linked in causality.
What is known, however, is that both flights took place on the Boeing 737 MAX 8, a new model recently unveiled to great fanfare by the US aviation giant that saw its first flight less than two years ago. "It's highly suspicious," said Mary Schiavo, a CNN aviation analyst and the former Inspector General of the US Transportation Department. "Here we have a brand-new aircraft that's gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn't happen."
Adding to concerns are some similarities between the two flights. Both were operated by well-known airlines with strong safety records but the Lion Air flight went down 13 minutes after take-off, while Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just six minutes into its journey. There are currently 300 of these planes in use across the world.
And while the Ethiopian Airlines did not see the wild fluctuations in altitude that the Lion Air flight saw, it did dip and then regain altitude before it crashed. "The similarities with Lion Air are too great not to be concerned," Schiavo said. At the root of October's Lion Air crash was a new safety system installed in the MAX 8 plane, known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that automatically pulls the plane's nose down if data suggests it is at risk.
In that flight, the system was responding to faulty data that suggested the nose was tilted at a higher angle than it was, indicating the plane was at risk of stalling.
The pilots subsequently engaged in a futile tug-of-war with the plane's automatic systems, trying to reverse a nosedive that should not be triggered so soon after take-off. Boeing has argued that pilots should have identified the system was in operation and turned it off. "All pilots should have been trained on that function after Lion Air," Schiavo added. "Boeing did something very unusual for any manufacturer, it sent out an emergency bulletin and told all airlines to make sure they trained the pilots in the shut-off procedure. This is one of the things that should never be happening after take-off," Schiavo said.
It is too early for conclusions to be drawn as to whether the same issue occurred on the Ethiopian Airlines flight but a clue could come sooner rather than later. "We will not get a final determination for two or three years but we will get information from the flight recorders in a matter of weeks," said CNN anchor Richard Quest, who specialises in aviation. "At the moment, it seems a coincidence" that both disasters occurred on the same aircraft, Quest said. "But I'm guaranteeing to you that the authorities will be examining just how close a coincidence and whether there are common circumstances between the two," he said. "Two brand new planes have crashed from two respected airlines," Quest added. "Ethiopian is a very, very well-run airline. There is no safety issue on Ethiopian Airlines."
If investigators do uncover a similar cause of the two accidents, the repercussions for Boeing could be dramatic.
"The Lion Air flight was a big deal for Boeing but they managed to overcome it," Schiavo says. "They put out the emergency warning about training and the industry went on. With the second one, I don't think everybody's going to forget."
The MAX 8 could be grounded if a link is found -- either by the company itself, or by governments, though the former is more likely to come first, Schiavo says. "The voluntary basis is always the better way to go but it will be expensive for Boeing."
Airlines with MAX 8 aircraft in their fleet and those with outstanding MAX 8 orders, are likely to be watching developments closely in the coming days and weeks. On Monday, 11 March 2019, China's Civil Aviation Administration said in a statement that it would be grounding the country's entire MAX 8 fleet due to the government's "zero tolerance for safety hazards." China has one of the world's largest fleets of Boeing 737 MAX 8, operating 97 of the planes, according to Chinese state-run media.
According to Boeing's most recent reports, 350 MAX planes have already been delivered to airlines across the world. A further 4 661 have been ordered. The plane that crashed on Sunday morning was delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in November. It was one of five active MAX 8 aircraft belonging to the airline and another was on order, according to the website PlaneSpotters, which tracks aircraft orders.
The highly anticipated 737 MAX 8 was the first member of the company's new series of more efficient, single-aisle plane family. The planes, which also include MAX 7, 9 and 10 models, were intended to compete with Airbus A320neo family aircraft in an ongoing battle to dominate the global narrow-body market segment. Together, they mark the latest versions of a jet that was first introduced in 1967. More than 10,000 737s have been produced, making it the best-selling jetliner of all time. "It's an outstanding aeroplane," Jeffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of Airline Ratings, said. "The 737 is the most widely used aeroplane in the world, there's over 7 000 of them flying at the moment... it's the workhorse of the world."
"It has an extraordinary record over the decades. An amazing safety records," he added, referring to the 737 aircraft in general.
But the new MAX 8 models have previously been placed under scrutiny. In 2017, Boeing temporarily grounded all 737 MAX planes over concerns about a manufacturing quality issue inside its new engines. Jamie Jewell, a spokesperson for the plane's engine maker CFM International, said at the time that the company's inspections found "some anomalies in the process" of manufacturing disks for the jet's turbine. Jewell also stressed that no problems related to the part were seen in the more than 2 000 hours of test flights for the 737 Max.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to temporarily suspend MAX flights. The step is consistent with our priority focus on safety for all who use and fly our products," the plane maker said in a 2017 statement. The MAX versions of the 737s are touted for their LEAP jet engines which Boeing says "redefine the future of efficient and environmentally friendly air travel." Boeing says the 737 MAX jets are 10 percent to 12 percent more efficient that their predecessors.
Until an investigation is launched, it is difficult to determine whether the Ethiopian Airlines disaster was the result of a failure in the aircraft, human error, or another factor.
Boeing did not comment regarding the MAX 8 model but have released a statement saying it is "deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew." It added that a "Boeing technical team is prepared to provide technical assistance at the request and under the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board."
A statement from Ethiopian Airlines reads:
Ethiopian Airlines regrets to confirm that its flight ET 302/10 March in schedule service from Addis Ababa to Nairobi was involved in an accident today around Bishoftu (Debre Zeit).
The aircraft B-737-800MAX with registration number ET- AVJ took off at 8h38 local time from Addis Ababa, Bole International Airport and lost contact at 8h44.
At this time search and rescue operations are in progress and we have no confirmed information about survivors or any possible causalities. Ethiopian Airlines staff will be sent to the accident scene and will do everything possible to assist the emergency services.
It is believed that there were 149 passengers and eight crew on board the flight but we are currently confirming the details of the passenger manifest for the flight.
Source: EWN, CNN