An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just after takeoff, killing all 157 thought to be on board
More than a dozen airlines around the world grounded some of Boeing’s newest jets Monday as investigators pored over the shattered remains of an Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people aboard.
The U.S.-based aircraft builder and the National Transportation Safety Board sent teams to the crash site to help determine why the Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 MAX 8 nosedived to the ground Sunday minutes after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Michael Raynor, the U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, visited the accident site Monday and said the NTSB team would arrive early Tuesday. The airline said the “black box” voice and data recorders had been found.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Monday afternoon that it is working with the NTSB to gather information. The agency also said it will assess any safety concerns with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and will take “immediate and appropriate action” if problems are found.
The senior pilot, identified as Yared Getachew, issued a distress call moments after takeoff and was told to return to the airport, the airline said. All contact was lost shortly afterward.
A witness said smoke was coming from the rear of the plane before it hit the ground. Tamrat Abera told the Associated Press that the plane rotated twice before crashing and exploding, sending smoke high into the sky.
The plane was delivered to the airline in November and had flown only 1,200 hours. The plane underwent a “rigorous” maintenance check Feb. 4. Getachew had more than 8,000 flight hours of experience, the airline said.
The crash came less than five months after an Indonesian Lion Air 737 MAX 8 plunged into the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers aboard. Both flights experienced drastic speed fluctuations during ascent, and both pilots had tried to return to the airport after takeoff.
As a result, the MAX 8 and its anti-stall system are drawing renewed scrutiny. The plane uses a system called MCAS – Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System – to stabilize the aircraft in flight. If sensors feed faulty data to the MCAS, the system can force the aircraft into a dive, according to a Boeing service bulletin Nov. 6. Flight data recovered from the Lion Air crash showed pilots repeatedly tried to get the nose up.
Boeing issued a statement saying it was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and would provide technical assistance to the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and the NTSB.
Ethiopia, China and Indonesia grounded their Boeing 737 MAX 8s on all airlines. Some airlines in India and South Korea also grounded them, and Cayman Airways parked its two MAX 8s.
U.S. carriers Southwest and American fly the plane, and both expressed confidence in their fleets. Southwest, which has 34 of the planes and is adding more, said on Twitter that the airline had flown 31,000 flights on 737 MAX planes and plans on “operating those aircraft going forward.”
United Airlines doesn’t fly the MAX 8 but does count 14 MAX 9s in its fleet.
“If you prefer not to fly on one we completely understand and will do what is best in our capabilities to find alternative travel arrangements,” United told a concerned customer on Twitter.
Elaine Chao, the U.S. secretary of transportation, said federal officials are keeping a close eye on the investigation in Ethiopia.
“I met with the acting FAA administrator on latest developments and what are our possible paths forward,” Chao said. “I want travelers to be assured and that we are taking this seriously and monitoring latest developments.”
The victims came from 35 countries. Ethiopia declared a national day of mourning, and the U.N. flag flew at half-staff.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the dead included at least 21 U.N. staff members along with others who worked with the organization. Addis Ababa and Nairobi are vital hubs for humanitarian workers, and some had been on their way to a U.N. environmental conference in Nairobi.
“A global tragedy has hit close to home, and the United Nations is united in grief,” Guterres said.
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Kenya lost 32 people, more than any country. Kenya’s transport minister, James Macharia, said the welfare of their stunned families was a primary focus.
“Some of them, as you know, they are very distressed,” he said. “They are in shock like we are. They are grieving.”
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz and Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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