Investigators recover data and voice recorders from Boeing jet that crashed in Ethiopia

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Investigators recover data and voice recorders from Boeing jet that crashed in Ethiopia

by - 5 min read

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Ethiopian Airlines says investigators have recovered the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet which crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa for Nairobi Sunday and were trying to determine the cause of the deadly crash involving a new aircraft model touted for its environmentally friendly engine.

An airline official said one of the recorders was partially damaged and “we will see what we can retrieve from it.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to the media.

Ethiopian authorities are leading the investigation into the crash, assisted by the U.S., Kenya and others.

It was not clear what caused the plane to go down in clear weather, but the pilot sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return to Addis Ababa, the airline’s CEO said on Sunday.   

After sunrise Monday, Red Cross workers slowly picked through the widely scattered debris near the blackened crash crater, looking for the remains of 157 people.

Rescuers work Monday at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash near Bishoftu, south of Addis Ababa. All 157 people aboard were killed. (Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press)

 Bulldozers dug into the crater to pull out buried pieces of the jet. Personal belongings and aircraft parts were strewn across the freshly churned earth. A shredded book and business cards in multiple languages could be seen, along with clothing, a computer keyboard and other items. 

Ethiopian Airlines, as well as all Chinese airlines, have grounded their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes indefinitely in the wake of the crash. Ethiopian Airlines has five of the planes in its fleet and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.

Indonesia grounded 11 of the aircraft for inspections, said Polana B. Pramesti, director general of Air Transportation. Caribbean carrier Cayman Airways, Comair in South Africa and Royal Air Maroc in Morocco temporarily grounded their Max 8s.

Canada’s two largest airlines say they are confident in the safety of the aircraft. 

Air Canada said its 24 Max 8 aircraft have performed “excellently” and met safety and reliability standards.

Calgary-based WestJet said it is “working with Boeing to ensure the continued safe operation of our Max fleet,” which includes 13 Max 8s.

Shares of Chicago-based Boeing slid almost 10 per cent in early trading on Monday. The share move, if maintained through normal trading hours, would be the biggest fall in Boeing’s stock in nearly two decades, halting a surge that has seen it triple in value in just over three years to a record high of $446 US last week.

Boeing said it did not intend to issue any new guidance to customers. But it plans to send a technical team to the crash site to help investigators, and issued a statement saying it was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew.”

Distress call

Ethiopian Airlines spokesperson Asrat Begashaw said forensic experts from Israel had arrived in Ethiopia to help with the investigation. Ethiopian authorities lead the investigation into the crash, assisted by the U.S., Kenya and others.

“These kinds of things take time,” Kenya’s Transport Minister James Macharia told reporters Monday morning.

People from 35 countries died in the crash six minutes after the plane took off from Ethiopia’s capital en route to Nairobi. Ethiopian Airlines said the senior pilot issued a distress call and was told to return but all contact was lost shortly afterward. The plane plowed into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu.

Watch: People gather near ​Ethiopia plane crash site

People gather at the scene of the crash near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, where a search and rescue operation is underway. 0:58

Kenya lost 32 people, more than any country. Relatives of 25 of the victims had been contacted, Macharia said, and taking care of their welfare was of utmost importance.

18 Canadians killed

“Some of them, as you know, they are very distressed,” he said. “They are in shock like we are. They are grieving.”

Canada, Ethiopia, the U.S., China, Italy, France, Britain, Egypt, Germany, India and Slovakia all lost four or more citizens.

Among the 18 Canadians killed were a Carleton University professor and a mother-daughter pair from Edmonton.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash, as did Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The government also provided a phone number for Canadians in Ethiopia to call for consular assistance.

The United Nations lost at least 21 staff members from various agencies, Secretary General Antonio Guterres said when he addressed a meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City on Monday morning.

Before leading the meeting in a moment of silence, Guterres called the crash “a global tragedy” and said the United Nations “is united in grief.”

“Let us honour the memories of our colleagues by keeping their spirit of service alive,” he said.

The organization had earlier said the breakdown of the dead are:

  • Seven from the World Food Program.
  • Two each from the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees and the International Telecommunications Union.
  • One each from the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Organization for Migration in Sudan, World Bank and UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.
  • Six staff from the UN Office in Nairobi.

Part of a passenger’s shoe at the site of the crash. (Michael Twelede/AFP/Getty Images)

Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and many people were on their way to a large UN environmental conference set to begin Monday in Nairobi. 

Ethiopia’s parliament declared Monday a day of mourning, while the summit in Nairobi opened with a moment of silence as some wept for the UN members killed in one of the deadliest aviation accidents in the organization’s history. The UN flag at the event flew at half-mast.

Crash ended 2 years of relative calm

The crash is likely to renew questions about the 737 Max 8, the newest version of Boeing’s popular single-aisle airliner, which was first introduced in 1967 and has become the world’s most common passenger jet.

The accident was strikingly similar to that of a Lion Air jet of the same Boeing model in Indonesian seas in October, killing 189 people. 

Indonesian investigators have not determined a cause for that crash, but days after the accident, Boeing sent a notice to airlines that faulty information from a sensor could cause the plane to automatically point the nose down. The notice reminded pilots of the procedure for handling such a situation.

A relative leaves the information centre at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi following Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

The Lion Air cockpit data recorder showed the jet’s airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its last four flights, though the airline initially said problems with the aircraft had been fixed before it left the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes until more is known about Sunday’s disaster.

The Ethiopian plane was new, delivered to the airline in November. The jet’s last maintenance was on Feb. 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours.

The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in African skies, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which has expanded to become the continent’s largest and best-managed carrier and turned Addis Ababa into the gateway to Africa.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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