HEJERE: Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday joined a rapidly growing number of countries grounding or closing airspace to a new Boeing plane involved in the Ethiopian Airlines disaster, as a global team of investigators began looking for parallels with a similar crash just five months ago.
Pressure grew on the United States to take action over the Boeing 737 Max 8 as Asian, Middle Eastern and then European nations and carriers gave in to concerns. Some cited customers frightened by the sight of Sunday’s crash in clear weather that killed all 157 people on board.
Ethiopian Airlines had issued no new updates on the crash as of the evening as 35 countries that lost citizens waited for answers. Some insights into the disaster and its cause could take months, aviation experts said.
British regulators said they based their decision on the fact that “we do not currently have sufficient information from the flight data recorder we have.” An Ethiopian Airlines official has said one of the jetliner’s two flight recorders was partially damaged in the crash.
Oman, Norwegian Air Shuttle and South Korean airline Eastar Jet were among the latest to halt use of the Boeing model. Malaysia, Australia and Singapore suspended all flights into or out of their countries.
The US-based Boeing, however, says it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies. It does not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers. Its technical team joined American, Israeli, United Arab Emirates, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation led by Ethiopian authorities.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it expects Boeing will soon complete improvements to an automated anti-stall system suspected of contributing to the deadly crash of another new Boeing 737 Max 8 in October.
Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons too soon with that Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
Even President Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting that additional “complexity creates danger” in modern aircraft and hinders pilots from making “split second decisions” to ensure passengers’ safety.
He did not specifically mention the crashes but said that “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot.” The Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed six minutes after taking off for Nairobi.
One witness said he saw smoke coming from the plane’s rear before it crashed in a rural field. “The plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded,” farmer Tamrat Abera said.
It should take five days before any victims’ remains are identified, Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said.
A pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told said the plane appeared to have “slid directly into the ground.” Capt. Solomon Gizaw was among the first people dispatched to find the crash site, which was discovered by Ethiopia’s air force.
“There was nothing to see,” he said. “It looked like the earth had swallowed the aircraft. ... We were surprised!” He said it explained why rescue officials quickly sent bulldozers to begin digging out large pieces of the plane.
Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa’s best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four 737 Max 8s until further notice as “an extra safety precaution.” The carrier had been using five of the planes and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.
On Tuesday a group of officials from China, which also grounded planes, paused in their work at the scene to reflect with an offering of incense, fruit, bread rolls, and a plastic container of the Ethiopian flatbread injera.
As the global team searched for answers, a woman stood near the crash site, wailing.
Kebebew Legess said she was the mother of a young Ethiopian Airlines crew member among the dead.
“She would have been 25 years old but God would not allow her,” she wept. “My daughter, my little one.”
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2019