Monday, July 22

Investigators start black box data review from Ethiopia crash

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Men unload a case from a diplomatic car from the Ethiopian Embassy outside the headquarters of France’s BEA air accident investigation agency in Le Bourget, north of Paris. — Reuters photo

WASHINGTON/PARIS/ADDIS ABABA: France’s air safety agency Friday began studying data from the black boxes of a Boeing 737 MAX plane that crashed in Ethiopia, as regulators the world over grounded the plane and the US planemaker halted deliveries of its latest model.

The Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing 157 people.

It was the second crash involving a 737 MAX since October, when a Lion Air flight plunged into the sea off Indonesia with 189 people on board.

Investigators will be looking for any links between the two air disasters.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all Boeing MAX jets in service because of similarities.

Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers, and left the world’s biggest planemaker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) on Thursday.

The first conclusions could take several days.

A picture of the data recorder released by the agency showed the crash-proof housing that shields the critical recording chip apparently intact, though there was damage to the side of the box.

Investigators will also analyse the voice recorder, which should have picked up conversations between the pilots as well as with air traffic controllers.

An Ethiopian team investigating the crash has arrived in Paris and the investigation process has started, Ethiopian Airlines said yesterday.

US lawmakers said the 737 Max fleet would be grounded for weeks if not longer until a software upgrade could be tested and installed.

The captain of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 requested permission to return to Addis Ababa airport three minutes after takeoff as it accelerated to abnormal speed, the New York Times reported.

All contact between air controllers and Flight 302 to Nairobi was lost five minutes after it took off, a person who reviewed air traffic communications told the newspaper.

Within a minute of the flight’s departure, Captain Yared Getachew reported a ‘flight control’ problem as the aircraft was well below the minimum safe height during a climb, the newspaper reported, citing the source.

After being cleared by the control room to turn back, Flight 302 climbed to an unusually high altitude and disappeared from radar over a restricted military zone, the source added.

Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.

“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field. — Reuters

Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 MAX models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching flights to other planes in their fleets.

The FAA cited satellite data and evidence from the scene that indicated some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia.

Two sources familiar with the matter said crash site investigators found a piece of a stabiliser used to set the airplane’s trim that was in an unusual position similar to that of the Lion Air plane at the time of its crash.

FAA did not respond immediately to a request for comment outside normal office hours.

Boeing declined to comment.

Under international rules, Ethiopians are leading the investigation but France’s BEA will conduct black box analysis as an adviser.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was also sending three investigators to assist. — Reuters