An aviation expert says investigators can expect to find multiple factors as they look for the cause of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed 157. The plane was a Boeing 737 Max 8, the latest version of the widely used jetliner. (March 11)
Plane crash investigations take months, but an early report on the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 may be released within days.
That’s the assessment of Mussie Yiheyis, spokesman for Ethiopia’s transport ministry, who said a high-ranking government official will announce the preliminary result of the probe into the March 10 accident that occurred outside the capital city of Addis Ababa.
“A date has not been set, but it will be released later this week,” Yiheyis told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, France’s BEA and an Ethiopian Transport Ministry department have been conducting the investigation. It has been conducted as per International Civil Aviation Organization rules and regulations.”
The crash has drawn widespread attention not only because it claimed the lives of all 157 people aboard, but also because of its similarities to an Oct. 29 accident involving a Lion Air plane that plummeted into the Java Sea off Indonesia, killing its 189 passengers and crew.
Both tragedies involved the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, and in both cases the planes went on erratic flight paths that prompted the pilots to make a desperate, futile attempt to return to the airport shortly after takeoff. Within days of the second crash, the jets were grounded worldwide.
One that was getting transported to a storage facility north of Los Angeles had to make an emergency landing Tuesday afternoon at the Orlando airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
“The crew of Southwest Airlines Flight 8701, a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, declared an emergency after the aircraft experienced a reported engine problem while departing from Orlando International Airport in Florida about 2:50 p.m. today,” the FAA said in a statement. “The aircraft returned and landed safely in Orlando. No passengers were aboard the aircraft, which was being ferried to Victorville, Calif., for storage. The FAA is investigating.”
On Monday, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told the Wall Street Journal that he believes the stall-prevention system known as MCAS, a new feature on the MAX models that debuted in 2017, was activated on his company’s doomed flight.
Investigators believe the MCAS’ response to a faulty angle-of-attack sensor was a factor in the Lion Air disaster and likely in the Ethiopian Airlines crash as well.
At a testing session attended by pilots from five airlines Saturday, Boeing re-created the conditions encountered by the Lion Air crew in a simulator, and also presented the same scenario with updated software meant to allow the pilots more control over the automated system.
The New York Times, citing two unnamed sources, said pilots discovered they had less than 40 seconds to rectify the problem and avoid disaster under the old system.
In a statement on the company website Monday, GebreMariam refuted reports that the pilots of Flight 302 were not trained on the new aspects of the MAX 8, saying: “After the Lion Air accident in October, our pilots who fly the new model were trained on all appropriate simulators.”
GrebeMariam expressed support for the carrier’s partnership with Boeing but did not address whether Ethiopian intends to go through with its order of 25 more MAX planes.
Last week, Garuda Indonesia announced that it would cancel its order of 49 MAX 8 jets.
“Let me be clear: Ethiopian Airlines believes in Boeing,” GrebeMariam said in the statement. “More than two-thirds of our fleet is Boeing. … Despite the tragedy, Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines will continue to be linked well into the future.”
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg responded with a Tuesday web post expressing appreciation:
“All of us thank Ethiopian Airlines for their commitment and share their resolve to doing everything possible to build an even safer air travel system,” Muilenburg said.
Boeing is updating the MAX series software and has invited more than 200 pilots, technical experts and regulators to its factory outside Seattle for a briefing Wednesday.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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