Ethiopian crash hub: Boeing confirms work on software upgrade

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On 10th March, the world was hit by the news that a passenger aircraft operated by Africa’s top national carrier had crashed.

The reference point for the information was solely the office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

It remained the most quoted source for hours before the flier, Ethiopian Airlines, confirmed with further details of the said incident.

The focus of this article is to put as much information as possible on the crash, straddling the before, during and aftermath of what is one of the deadliest incidents Ethiopian has faced in recent years.

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued the following statement regarding the report from Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges.

First and foremost, our deepest sympathies are with the families and loved ones of those onboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

Boeing continues to support the investigation, and is working with the authorities to evaluate new information as it becomes available.

Safety is our highest priority as we design, build and support our airplanes.

As part of our standard practice following any accident, we examine our aircraft design and operation, and when appropriate, institute product updates to further improve safety.

While investigators continue to work to establish definitive conclusions, Boeing is finalizing its development of a previously-announced software update and pilot training revision that will address the MCAS flight control law’s behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs.

We also continue to provide technical assistance at the request of and under the direction of the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Accredited Representative working with Ethiopian investigators.

In accordance with international protocol, all inquiries about the ongoing accident investigation must be directed to the investigating authorities.

Ethiopian Airlines said on Saturday that DNA testing of the remains of the 157 passengers on board flight 302 may take up to six months as it offered bereaved families charred earth from the plane crash site to bury.

As families wait for the results from the investigation into the cause of the crash, Ethiopian Airlines is planning to hold a service on Sunday in Addis Ababa, at the Kidist Selassie, or Holy Trinity Cathedral, where many of the country’s past rulers are buried beneath its pink stone spires.

“We were told by the company that we will be given a kilo (of earth) each for burial at Selassie Church for a funeral they will organise,” said one family member who asked not to be named.

Papers given to the families at the Skylight Hotel on Saturday said death certificates would be issued within two weeks, and an initial payment made to cover immediate expenses.

The return of remains, most of which are charred and fragmented would take up to six months, the papers said, but in the meantime earth from the crash site would be given.

Abdulmajid Sheriff, a Kenyan whose Yemeni brother-in-law died, said they had already held a service.

“We are Muslims we didn’t care about that (earth). We did yesterday our prayers at the mosque and that is all for us.”

U.S. president Donald Trump has praised the Ethiopia national carrier in a call with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday.

Abiy’s office said the two had spoken in a phone call which centered on the March 10 crash and on reforms back home.

Starting Friday, BEA investigators will try to retrieve information from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which were damaged in the disaster.

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, sent the black boxes to France because it does not have the equipment to analyze the data.

The information that they contain helps explain 90 percent of all crashes, according to aviation experts.

The first conclusions could take several days.

The crash-proof housing on the data recorder appeared to be intact but the voice recorder, which should have picked up the conversations between the pilots and between the pilots and air traffic controllers, appeared damaged at one side, according to pictures released by the agency.

On Wednesday, US authorities said new evidence showed similarities between the Ethiopia crash and that of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October that killed 189 people.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said findings from the crash site near Addis Ababa and “newly refined satellite data” warranted “further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents.”

According to the flight data recorder, the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 struggled to control the aircraft as the MCAS repeatedly pushed the nose down following takeoff.

The Ethiopian Airlines pilots reported similar difficulties before their aircraft plunged to the ground.

The captain of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 requested permission to return to Addis Ababa airport three minutes after takeoff as it accelerated to abnormal speed, report said.

All contact between air controllers and Flight 302 to Nairobi was lost five minutes after it took off, a person who reviewed air traffic communications told newsmen.

Within a minute of the flight’s departure, Captain Yared Getachew reported a “flight control” problem as the aircraft was well below the minimum safe height during a climb, the newspaper reported, citing the source.

“Break break, request back to home,” reports quoted that the pilot just prior to the crash. “Request vector for landing.”

After being cleared by the control room to turn back, Flight 302 climbed to an unusually high altitude and disappeared from radar over a restricted military zone, the source added.

The world’s biggest plane maker, Boeing announced on Thursday it was suspending deliveries of its top-selling 737 MAX as French investigators took delivery of the black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 passengers and crew.

“We are pausing the delivery of the 737 MAX until we come up with a solution,” a Boeing spokesman said, adding that “we are going to continue the production, but we are assessing our capacities.”

France’s BEA air safety agency confirmed it has received the black box recorders from the plane, which was just four months old and crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday.

Hours after France confirmed that it was available to analyze the black boxes from the crashed Ethiopian airline jet, investigators from Addis Ababa arrived in Paris with the boxes.

Work on the materials will be handled by the accident investigation agency, BEA.

Ethiopian had on early Thursday confirmed that France had opted to help with the analysis.

The United States transport safety board have also sent three investigators to France to assist with the downloading and analysis of the information contained in the boxes.

The Washington-based NTSB is the federal agency that: “investigates accidents in aviation, highway, marine, rail & pipeline and makes recommendations to improve transportation safety for everyone.”

Meanwhile, report said about a standoff in Addis Ababa where families of victims stormed out of a meeting with the airline.

“The airline had called a meeting with families in a hotel in Addis Ababa but around 100 relatives walked out.”

They were protesting what they said was lack of timely information from the airline.

Most of them had visited the crash site in Bishoftu to pay their respects to departed relations.

“France’s air accident investigation agency BEA will analyse black-box flight recorders from a Boeing 737 MAX 8 which crashed near Addis Ababa on Sunday” a spokesman said.

Ethiopian Airlines said earlier it would send the twocockpit voice and data recorders abroad for analysis.

The French announcement resolved uncertainty over the fate of the two recorders after Germany’s BFU said it had declined a request to handle them because it could not process the new type of recorder used on the 737 MAX jets, in service since 2017.

The BEA is one of the world’s most active air crash agencies alongside the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States and has laboratories at its Le Bourget headquarters.

Hauwa Mustapha