WASHINGTON/PARIS (Reuters) – An anti-stall system at the center of a probe into the crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jetliner in Indonesia five months ago was also at play when an identical aircraft crashed in Ethiopia earlier this month, three people briefed on the matter said.
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
Data pulled from the Ethiopian Airlines flight recorder suggests the so-called MCAS system, which pushes the nose of the jet downwards, had been activated before the jet ploughed into a field outside Addis Ababa on March 10, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an interim official report.
Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment on the data, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
It is the second related piece of evidence to emerge from the black boxes of Ethiopian flight 302 after an initial sample of data recovered by investigators in Paris 11 days ago suggested similar “angle of attack” readings to the first crash.
These initial airflow readings from the Ethiopian jet, first reported by Reuters, refer to stall-related information needed to trigger the automated nose-down MCAS system.
The system is designed to be activated only when the angle of attack – measuring the way the wing cuts through the air – has become too high to avoid the plane stalling or losing lift.
However, it was not immediately clear whether the system on the Ethiopian jet was responding to faulty sensor data, as in the case of the earlier crash, or genuine stall indications.
Ethiopian, French and U.S. officials have said there are similarities between the two accidents, which led to the worldwide grounding of the recently introduced 737 MAX.
An Ethiopian-led investigation is trying to establish whether the system overpowered the pilots, a leading scenario in the Lion Air crash, and what action was taken by the crew.
Boeing has suggested using two existing cut-out switches could have prevented the Lion Air disaster, but it has also announced proposals to beef up the system and improve training.
Two of the people briefed on the matter said they presumed that the Ethiopian Airlines pilots did not hit the cut-out switches based on the airplane’s speed and fatal descent, but could not confirm that the data established that.
Reporting by David Shepardson, Tim Hepher, Editing by Sarah White
PARIS/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Investigators in France will begin analyzing the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet’s black boxes on Friday, seeking clues into a disaster that has angered scores of mourning families and grounded Boeing’s global 737 MAX fleet.
Sunday’s crash after take-off from Addis Ababa killed 157 people from 35 nations in the second such calamity involving Boeing’s flagship new model in six months.
Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers worldwide, and left the world’s biggest planemaker scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.
Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.
“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.
Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 MAX models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching planes.
Another nearly 5,000 MAXs are on order, meaning the financial implications are huge for the industry.
After an apparent tussle over where the investigation should be held, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders arrived in Paris and were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) agency.
Technical analysis would begin on Friday and the first conclusions could take several days, the BEA said, posting a picture of the partly crumpled, orange-cased box.
The investigation has added urgency since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday grounded the 737 MAX aircraft citing satellite data and evidence from the scene indicating some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move. Its stock is down about 11 percent since the crash, wiping more than $26 billion off its market value.
It is unclear how long the Boeing aircraft will be grounded.
U.S. President Donald Trump, an aviation enthusiast with deep ties to Boeing, said he hoped the suspensions would be short. “It’s a great company,” he told reporters at the White House. “They have to figure it out fast. They know that. They’re under great pressure.”
A software fix for the 737 MAX that Boeing has been working on since the Lion Air crash in October in Indonesia will take months to complete, the FAA said on Wednesday.
A relative puts soil on her face as she mourns at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling jets have been effectively frozen, though production continues.
And in what may presage a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its fleet of 737 MAX. Japan became the latest nation to suspend the 737 MAX planes on Thursday. And airline Garuda Indonesia said there was a possibility it would cancel its 20-strong order of 737 MAXs, depending on what the FAA does.
Under international rules, the Ethiopians are leading the investigation but France’s BEA will conduct black box analysis as an advisor. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was also sending three investigators to assist.
The choice of the BEA followed what experts say appears to have been a tug-of-war between national agencies, with Germany initially invited to do the analysis.
Ethiopian Airlines criticized a French-backed investigation into a crash in Lebanon in 2010, when an Ethiopian plane crashed into the sea after take-off. It said the investigation was biased against the pilots, who were blamed for the crash.
There is a small pool of countries including Britain, France, the United States, Canada and Australia that are seen as leading investigators. But only France and the United States have the experience gleaned from being present at almost every crash involving an Airbus or Boeing respectively.
The cause of the Indonesian crash is still being investigated. A November preliminary report, before the retrieval of the cockpit voice recorder, focused on maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor, but gave no reason for the crash.
The pilot of Flight 302 had reported internal control problems and received permission to return, before the plane came down and burst into a fireball on arid farmland.
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Relatives are desperate to know what happened and to receive fragments if not corpses, given the fire and destruction at the site. They were at least able to vent their grief.
“We saw where he died and touched the earth,” said Sultan Al-Mutairi, who came from Riyadh to say goodbye to his brother Saad, who ran a recruitment agency in Kenya.
Reporting by Richard Lough, Tim Hepher and John Irish in Paris, Duncan Miriri and Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa, Jeff Mason and David Shepardson in Washington, Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Danilo Masoni in Milan; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jon Boyle