Ethiopian Airlines announced Wednesday that it would send the voice and data recorders from its ill-fated Flight 302 to be analyzed abroad, as more countries said they were banning planes of the same type from operating in their airspace.
The data from the two flight recorders, commonly known as the “black boxes,” are eagerly awaited as worry grows that the cause of Sunday’s crash could be related to an automated system aboard the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that went down in Ethiopia minutes after taking off en route to Nairobi. The same type of plane also crashed shortly after takeoff in October in Indonesia.
Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Tewolde Gebremariam told CNN on Tuesday that the pilot reported “flight control problems” and asked to return to the airport.
After China grounded the plane on Monday, several countries followed suit, including much of Europe. The latest bans were issued by India, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Hong Kong.
Tewolde told CNN on Tuesday that the boxes would be sent abroad “because we don’t have the equipment here” to analyze their data. He said the boxes could possibly go to the United States or to a European country closer to Ethiopia “in the interest of proximity and speed.” The decision will be made by the team investigating the crash.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has stood by the embattled American airplane manufacturer and has said there is no basis for grounding the aircraft – a stand that has left the agency increasingly isolated.
According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, use of the 737 Max has plummeted around the world. On Sunday, the day Flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa killing all 157 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,250 Max 8 flights were tracked. That number had dropped to 718 by Tuesday and continues to go down Wednesday. Canadian and American carriers remain the last major airlines using the plane.
While Tewolde of Ethiopian Airlines said the cause of the crash was not yet clear, he did cast doubt on the type of airplane.
“Two major fatal accidents on the same airpane model, brand new airplane model, in six months – so there are a lot of questions to be answered on the airplane,” he said.
Following the crash in Indonesia of a Lion Air flight shortly after takeoff, Boeing issued a bulletin warning about potential issues with an automated anti-stalling system on that model plane that could push the nose down.
Tewolde said the bulletin was distributed to all pilots flying the plane. “The pilots were well briefed on the air ordinance filed,” he said.
In both the case of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crash, the airplane immediately showed signs of trouble with an erratic flight path that ascended and then descended before crashing minutes later.
Ethiopian Airlines did not immediately respond to questions about whether there was any additional training for 737 Max 8 pilots in the wake of the Lion Air crash and the Boeing announcement.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Paul Schemm