Ethiopian plane crash: inquiry to explore how ‘excellent’ p…


Aviation authorities have begun investigating how a new Boeing plane with an experienced pilot crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.

The destruction of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, which was on its way to Nairobi, is the second calamity involving a Boeing 737 Max 8, a new model that experienced a similar accident in Indonesia in October.

The largest number of the victims were Kenyans. At least seven Britons were on the flight, which left Bole airport at 8.38am local time (5.38am GMT).

There are concerns that a number of humanitarian aid workers and delegates to the UN Environment Assembly, which starts in Nairobi on Monday, may have been on the flight.

The pilot said he was experiencing technical problems and asked to return to the airport. The control tower lost contact with the aircraft at 8.44am. Wreckage was later discovered near the town of Bishoftu, 39 miles (62km) south-east of the Ethiopian capital.

The flight tracking website Flightradar24 tweeted that the plane had unstable vertical speed after takeoff.

The cause of the accident is not yet known. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said routine maintenance had revealed no problems with the plane, which it had received last November, and the captain Yared Getachew had flown more than 8,000 hours with an “excellent flying record”.

“As I said, it is a brand new airplane with no technical remarks, flown by a senior pilot and there is no cause that we can attribute at this time,” he told reporters.

Questions have been raised about the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8, which has been in commercial operation since 2016. The same model was involved in the Lion Air crash, where a jet plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff last year, killing 189 people.

More than 300 of these planes are in operation with different airlines. Ethiopian has six more. Asked whether they would be grounded, GebreMariam said no because “we don’t know the cause of the accident”.

In a statement, the airline said it would conduct a forensic investigation in conjunction with officials from Boeing, the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, the Ethiopian Transport Authority other international bodies.

The plane contained passengers from more than 30 nationalities.According to the airline, Kenya had 32, Canada 18, Ethiopia nine, Italy, China and the US eight each, the UK and France seven each, Egypt six, the Netherlands five, India and Slovakia four each, Sweden and Russia three each and other countries one or two.

Sebastiano Tusa, 66, a renowned Italian archaeologist, was among those killed, the Italian government said. He had been flying to Kenya for a project with Unesco.

Slovak MP Anton Hrnko wrote on Facebook that his wife, son and daughter had all been killed in the crash. “It is with deep sorrow that I announce that my dear wife, Blanka, son Martin and daughter Michala, died in the air disaster in Addis Ababa this morning,” he wrote on Facebook.

Kenyan authorities offered support to families and friends waiting at Nairobi airport. The transport secretary, James Macharia, said they would be transported to an emergency centre at a nearby hotel. “It is a very sensitive emotional matter,” he said.

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Earlier many people had been waiting at the arrival gate with no information.

“We’re just waiting for my mum. We’re just hoping she took a different flight or was delayed. She’s not picking up her phone,” said Wendy Otieno.

Robert Mudanta, 46, was waiting for his brother-in-law coming from Canada. “No, we haven’t seen anyone from the airline or the airport,” he told Reuters more than three hours after the flight was lost. “Nobody has told us anything. We are just standing here hoping for the best.”

Four of those on board were travelling on UN passports. Others are said to be delegates to the the UN Environment Assembly, which will be attended by 4,700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders and others.

Inger Anderson, the incoming head of UN Environment, told the Guardian: “We’re devastated by what transpired. Obviously many of our partners and colleagues are deeply impacted. This is a house in mourning but a house that doesn’t yet know all the facts.” The assembly’s organisers have shared details of emergency hotlines with delegates.

Several prominent humanitarian workers were among the victims, including International Committee for the Development of Peoples founder Paolo Dieci; three members of Italian humanitarian organisation Africa Tremila, including the president Carlo Spini, his wife, and treasurer Matteo Ravasio; and Save the Children child protection in emergencies adviser Tamirat Mulu Demessie.

The Ethiopian prime minister’s office sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash.

Under international rules, responsibility for leading the crash investigation lies with Ethiopia but the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also participate because the plane was designed and built in the United States.

Representatives of Boeing and Cincinnati-based engine-maker CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and General Electric Co and France’s Safran SA, will advise the NTSB.

The aircraft had shattered into many pieces and was severely burnt, a Reuters reporter at the scene of the crash said. Clothing and personal effects were scattered widely over the field where the plane came down.

An eyewitness told AFP the plane came down in flames. “The plane was already on fire when it crashed to the ground. The crash caused a big explosion,” Tegegn Dechasa recounted at the site. “I was near the river near the crash site. Shortly after the crash police and a fire crew from a nearby air force camp came and extinguished the plane’s flames on the ground.”

He added: “The plane was in flames in its rear side shortly before the crash. The plane was swerving erratically before the crash.”

The cause of the earlier crash involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Indonesia is still under investigation. A preliminary report focused on airline maintenance and training, as well as the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a reason for the crash. Since then, the cockpit voice recorder was recovered and a final report is due later this year.

State-owned Ethiopian is one of the biggest carriers in Africa by fleet size. It said previously that it expected to carry 10.6 million passengers last year. Its last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after takeoff.

The airline is in the middle of an expansion, aiming to double its fleet to 120 and become Africa’s biggest airline by 2025. It has tripled its passenger numbers over the past decade. A new terminal recently opened at Bole, tripling the airport’s size.

Additional reporting by Lorenzo Tondo

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