Ethiopian Airline Crash Updates: Data and Voice Recorders Recovered


• The newest version of Boeing’s most popular jet is under intensified scrutiny after the deadly crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday, leading that carrier and at least 17 others around the world to ground their 737 Max 8 planes. But at least 18 carriers, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which are heavy users of the Max 8, continued to fly them on Monday.

• The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, in a “continued airworthiness notification,” said that the investigation had just begun and that it did not have information to draw any conclusions or take any action — meaning the agency still considered the Max 8 safe to fly. But pilots and flight attendants in the United States raised questions about the Max 8’s safety.

• While investigators have not determined the cause of the crash, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have both been recovered, Ethiopian Airlines said. Some circumstances of the crash were similar to one in October in Indonesia that killed 189 people.

• Aviation experts expressed surprise at the vast disparity in experience in the two-person cockpit crew. Ethiopian Airlines said the pilot of Flight 302 had 8,000 hours of flying time but the co-pilot had just 200.

But if they are dented or burned, the data might not be easily extractable.

“They might need to decontaminate them, or adjust smoke components first,” she said.

Dr. Dray said the two recorders would be treated slightly differently. Some of the flight data, which generally includes information about speed, air pressure and other details, might already be known to investigators. But the cockpit voice recorder, which captures anything that might have been said or heard by the captain and co-pilot, can be more revealing — and more sensitive, Dr. Dray said.

The two recorders are just part of the evidence. “This is just one strand of the investigation — there are lots of strands,” Dr. Dray said. It could be more than a year before the final report is released, she added.

After Lion Air Flight 610 nose-dived into the sea shortly after taking off from the airport in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, killing all 189 people on board, the Transport Ministry grounded all Max 8s operating in the country. But after inspections were conducted last November, the planes were declared safe.

Indonesian and American aviation authorities have raised the possibility that Flight 610’s crash was caused by automated anti-stall software in the Max 8 model that may have been erroneously activated by incorrect flight data.

China’s main airlines are among the biggest users so far of the new Boeing jets, having taken delivery of most of the planes they have ordered. By contrast, many other carriers, often in slower-growing markets than China’s, have taken delivery of only a small fraction of their orders.

China’s aviation sector could benefit from the tragedies in Ethiopia and Indonesia. A government-owned company has developed an alternative to the Boeing 737, called the Comac C919, but has so far struggled to find major buyers outside China. Airlines have expressed concerns about fuel efficiency and safety issues, including how willing Chinese regulators would be to share information about accidents.

At least 20 airlines around the world have grounded their 737 Max 8 planes. At least 18 were continuing to fly them on Monday.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board in the United States were at the crash site on Monday. In a Twitter post, the F.A.A. said: “We are collecting data and keeping in contact with international civil aviation authorities as information becomes available.”

It later issued a “Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community” that said it would examine all data from the investigation and “take appropriate action if the data indicates the need to do so.”

But the notification also said nothing immediate was planned — meaning the Max 8 was deemed airworthy, despite the groundings in some other countries, including China and Indonesia. The notification said “this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions.”

The F.A.A. hasn’t taken that kind of step on a fleet of aircraft since 2013, when it ordered Boeing 787s to stop flying temporarily after a problem with the plane’s battery system was identified.

The agency, which certified the latest version of Boeing’s best-selling jet as airworthy in 2017, has not taken that step with the Max 8 despite mounting questions about the plane’s safety record.

Boeing issued a statement late Monday night saying that for the past several months, in the aftermath of the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, the company has been developing a “flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer.” According to the company, it has been working with the F.A.A. to roll out the software updates across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks.

The Association of Flight Attendants sent a letter to the F.A.A. calling for a review of the Max 8. “We need help from the regulators when the entire world is looking at two catastrophic incidents that happened on the same aircraft type within five months of each other,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the flight attendants’ union. “Our system is so safe that these things don’t happen today. That is why people are questioning what is going on here.”

Pilots also raised questions. “We’re very concerned about why two brand-new aircraft suddenly pitched over and nosed into the ground,” said Rory Kay, a former top safety official at the world’s largest pilot union. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilot union and a 737 pilot, said pilots were already wary of the 737 Max because of the Lion Air crash, and that the Ethiopian Airlines crash had intensified scrutiny of the plane by his members.

In Washington, Senator Dianne Feinstein went a step further, calling on the F.A.A. to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8’s until the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash was complete.

At the scene of the crash near Bishoftu, a two-hour drive south of Addis Ababa, emergency workers picked through the debris-strewn site, spread across a wide field.

In one pile, luggage and personal items were searched for identification documents. In another, smashed plane parts were gathered. Red Cross officials wearing face masks searched for human remains.

A government-affiliated broadcaster said experts from China and volunteers from an Israeli rescue and recovery organization were assisting local emergency workers at the site of the crash.

“I want to assure you all that as the day and week unfold, and the world’s global environmental leaders meet to discuss the future of our planet, we will not forget this tragedy,” she said.

Witnesses described an aircraft that swerved and dipped wildly in its final moments, spewing smoke and making unusual noises before it hurtled into the ground.

One man told Ethiopia’s national broadcaster that it appeared to gain altitude briefly shortly before it smashed into a field and disintegrated. “The plane was moving in all directions,” he told the station. “There was smoke coming out of it, and it was on fire.”

Another witness, who identified himself by only one name, Feyissa, said he had seen the aircraft circling four or five times. “Then the plane came down almost vertically at great speed, hard and loud — fire, smoke and everything happened so fast.”

Aviation experts have cautioned that while witness accounts can help in an investigation, they are not necessarily accurate and are of limited value in helping pinpoint the cause or causes of a crash.

Ethiopian Airlines said after the crash that the pilot of Flight 302, Yared Getachew, 29, had 8,000 hours of flying time, but aviation experts were drawn to the paucity of experience on the part of someone else in the cockpit: the co-pilot, Ahmed Nur Mohammod Nur, who had just 200 hours.

Peter Marosszeky, a former executive and aircraft engineer at Qantas Airways, Pan Am and American Airlines who has advised Boeing on its 747 and 777 programs, said that pilots and co-pilots of large commercial aircraft should have thousands of hours of flight time.

“The 200 is obviously ridiculously low,” Mr. Marosszeky said. He noted that in Australia, where he now lives and works as an aviation consultant, the minimum experience to obtain an unrestricted flying license for a small personal plane is 155 hours of flight time.



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