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Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302
ET-AVJ, the aircraft involved in the accident, seen in February 2019
|Date||10 March 2019 (2019-03-10)|
|Summary||Crashed shortly after take-off; under investigation|
|Site||Tulu Fara village near Bishoftu, Ethiopia
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737 MAX 8|
|IATA flight No.||ET302|
|ICAO flight No.||ETH302|
|Call sign||ETHIOPIAN 302|
|Flight origin||Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia|
|Destination||Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya|
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. On 10 March 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft which operated the flight crashed near the town of Bishoftu six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people aboard. The cause of the accident is under investigation.
Flight 302 is the deadliest accident involving an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft to date, surpassing the fatal hijacking of Flight 961 resulting in a crash near the Comoros in 1996. It is also the deadliest aircraft accident to occur in Ethiopia, surpassing the crash of an Ethiopian Air Force Antonov An-26 in 1982, which killed 73.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 model first flew on 29 January 2016 and entered service in 2017, making it one of the newest aircraft in Boeing's commercial airliner offerings, and the newest generation of Boeing 737. As of February 2019, 376 aircraft of this model have been produced and one other has crashed, Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018. Following the accident, the Boeing 737 MAX series of aircraft was grounded by various airlines and government regulators worldwide.
Flight 302 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. The aircraft took off from Addis Ababa at 08:38 local time (05:38 UTC) with 149 passengers and 8 crew on board. One minute into the flight, the pilot reported a “flight control” problem; three minutes into the flight the aircraft accelerated beyond its safety limits, and the pilot requested permission to return to Addis Ababa while the air traffic controllers had already been diverting other approaching flights.
The aircraft disappeared from radar screens and crashed at 08:44, six minutes after takeoff, having reached an altitude of about 7,000 feet Above Ground Level. Flight tracking data showed that the aircraft's altitude and rate of climb and descent were fluctuating. Several witnesses stated the plane trailed "white smoke" and made strange noises before crashing. The aircraft reportedly impacted the ground at nearly 700 mph.
It crashed in the woreda (district) of Gimbichu, Oromia Region, near the town of Bishoftu, 62 kilometres (39 mi) southeast of Bole International Airport. Photographs of the accident site show a large crater with only small pieces of wreckage. There were no survivors.
The aircraft was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, registered ET-AVJ (construction number 62450, manufacturer's serial number 7243), powered by two CFM International LEAP engines. The aircraft was manufactured in October 2018 and delivered on 15 November 2018, making it around four months old at the time of the accident.
Passengers and crew
The airline stated that the flight’s 149 passengers had 35 different nationalities.
All passengers and crew on board, 157 in total, were killed in the accident. Many of the passengers were travelling to Nairobi to attend the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. Twelve of the victims worked for the United Nations (UN), and at least another seven had other UN affiliations. Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi have offices of UN agencies, and Addis Ababa has the head office of the African Union.
Notable victims on-board included the Italian archaeologist and Councillor for Cultural Heritage of Sicily, Sebastiano Tusa, and Nigerian-Canadian academic Pius Adesanmi. Slovak politician Anton Hrnko lost his wife and two children in the crash. A Greek man and an Emirati man missed the flight and avoided the disaster.
The captain of the plane was Yared Getachew, 29, who had been flying with the airline for almost nine years and had logged a total of 8,122 flight hours. He had been a Boeing 737-800 captain since November 2017, and Boeing 737 MAX since July 2018. At the time of the accident, he was the youngest captain at the airline. The first officer, Ahmed Nur Mohammod Nur, 25, was a recent graduate from the airline's academy with 361 flight hours logged.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed offered his condolences to the families of the victims. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam visited the accident site, confirmed that there were no survivors and expressed sympathy and condolences. Boeing issued a statement of condolence.
The Ethiopian parliament declared 11 March as a day of national mourning. During the opening of the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, a minute of silence was observed in sympathy for the victims. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, in his condolence message on behalf of the government and the people of Nigeria, extended his sincere condolences to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, the people of Ethiopia, Kenya, Canada, China and all other nations who lost citizens in the crash.
On 11 March, the FAA commented that the Boeing 737 Max 8 model was airworthy. However, due to concerns on the operation of the aircraft, the FAA ordered Boeing to implement design changes, effective by April. It stated that Boeing "plans to update training requirements and flight crew manuals in response to the design change" to the aircraft's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The changes will also include enhancements to the activation of the MCAS and the angle of attack signal. Boeing stated that the upgrade was developed in response to the Lion Air crash but did not link it to the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
On 19 March, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, sent a memo to the U.S. Inspector General asking him to "proceed with an audit to compile an objective and detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the certification of the Boeing 737-MAX 8 aircraft."
Flight International commented that the accident would likely increase unease about the Boeing 737 MAX felt in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident in October 2018, which similarly occurred shortly after take-off and killed everyone aboard. Boeing shares dropped 11% over the weekend, and as of March 23 Boeing has lost more than $40 billion in market value since the crash, dropping some 14%.
As a result of the accident and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash, which occurred five months prior to the Ethiopian crash, most airlines and countries around the world began grounding the Boeing 737 MAX 8 (and in many cases all MAX variants) due to safety concerns. Ethiopian Airlines grounded their aircraft after the crash, followed by other operators of the 737 MAX. Aviation authorities also started grounding all MAX aircraft under their jurisdiction, including transiting flights, initially by the Civil Aviation Administration of China on 11 March 2019. Initially the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declined to ground 737 MAX aircraft under its jurisdiction. However between 11 and 13 March the majority of aviation authorities around the world started grounding the aircraft. On 13 March the FAA issued an emergency grounding order, citing new evidence from the crash investigations.
The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA), the agency responsible for investigating civil aviation accidents in Ethiopia, has been investigating. The aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, stated that it is prepared to work with the United States National Transportation Safety Board and assist Ethiopian Airlines. The United States Federal Aviation Administration will also assist in the investigation.
Both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder were recovered from the crash site on 11 March. The French aviation accident investigation agency BEA announced that it would analyze the flight recorders from the flight. BEA received the flight recorders on 14 March. On 17 March, the Ethiopia’s transport minister Dagmawit Moges announced that "the black box has been found in a good condition that enabled us to extract almost all the data inside" and that the preliminary data retrieved from the flight data recorder show a clear similarity with those of Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed off Indonesia.
On 13 March 2019, the FAA announced that new evidence found on the crash site and satellite data on Flight 302 suggested that the aircraft might have suffered from the same problem which the aircraft operating Lion Air Flight 610 had suffered from. Investigators discovered the jackscrew that controlled the pitch angle of the horizontal stabilizer of Flight 302, was in the full "nose down" position. The finding suggested that, at the time of the crash, Flight 302 was configured to dive, similar to Lion Air Flight 610. Due to this finding, some experts in Indonesia suggested that the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) should cooperate with Flight 302's investigation team. Later on the evening, the NTSC offered assistance to Flight 302's investigation team, stating that the committee and the Indonesian Transportation Ministry would send investigators and representatives from the government to assist with the investigation of the crash.
On 4 April 2019 the ECAA released the preliminary report on the crash. The preliminary report does not specifically mention MCAS but rather states "approximately five seconds after the end of the ANU (aircraft nose up) stabilizer motion, a third instance of AND (aircraft nose down) automatic trim command occurred without any corresponding motion of the stabilizer, which is consistent with the stabilizer trim cutout switches being in the ‘’cutout’’ position".
Approximately one minute into the flight 238 kt (274 miles per hour) airspeed was selected. About 12 seconds later the autopilot disengaged. The preliminary report asserts that the thrust remained at takeoff setting (94% N1) and the throttles did not move for the entire flight. In the next 30 seconds the stabilizer trim moved 4.2 degrees nose down, from 4.6 to 0.4 units. In the next 10 seconds the trim moved back up to 2.3 units as a result of pilot input and the pilots agreed on and executed the stabilizer trim cut-out procedure, cutting power to the trim motor operated by MCAS.
Reactions to the investigation
Statements from parties
Ethiopian Airlines said MCAS was “to the best of our knowledge” active when the aircraft crashed. According to Ethiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moges, the crew "performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft". Bjorn Fehrm from Leeham News stated the preliminary report confirms "the Flight Crew followed the procedures prescribed by FAA and Boeing in Airworthiness Directive 2018-23-51", released shortly after the Lion Air crash.
Boeing's CEO Dennis Muilenburg said on April 29 that if "you go through the checklist...it calls out actions that would be taken around power management and pitch management of the airplane. It also refers to the cutout switches, that after an activation that was not pilot-induced, that you would hit the cutout switches. And, in some cases, those procedures were not completely followed".
A data spike in the flight data led to speculations about a bird or other debris hitting the plane as it was taking off, shearing away the airflow sensor. These speculations were dismissed by Ethiopian Airlines, and Chief investigator Amdye Ayalew Fanta stated there was no indication of such damage.
On 25 April The Aviation Herald submitted 25 questions that has arisen in the aftermath of the accident to the FAA's Flight Standardization Board (FSB) regarding their draft for certification of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Earlier it stated that a copy of the version of section 2.6 of the Flight Operations Manual, "Operational Irregularities", in use by Ethiopian Airlines at the time of the crash was dated November 1, 2017 and did not include material from the Operator's Bulletin issued by Boeing on November 6, 2018.
Based on the preliminary report The Aviation Herald comes to the conclusion: "Neither of the three crews" (JT-43, JT-610, ET-302) "would have been forced to react under time pressure in order to prevent a crash, [...] without the technical malfunctions [of the angle of attack sensors] and the nose down trim inputs."
According to The Air Current aviation journal and The Seattle Times the preliminary report shows the pilots initially followed the procedure to disable runaway trim, but the recovery effort did not succeed. Pilots have demonstrated in simulator that the trim wheels cannot be moved in severe mis-trim conditions combined with a high airspeed. As the pilots on Flight 302 pulled on the yoke to raise the nose, the aerodynamic forces on the tail’s elevator would create an opposing force on the stabilizer trim jackscrew that would prevent the pilots from moving the trim wheel by hand.
The resolution for this jammed trim issue is not part of Boeing's current 737 manual according to The Air Current. The Seattle Times reports pilots on the 737-200 were trained for this failure, but later models got so reliable, this procedure was no longer necessary.
Experts theorize that the difficulty to trim made it necessary for the flight crew to release the cutout, and try to use electronic trim in an effort to correct the out-of-trim configuration. According to Bjorn Fehrm (Leeham News) and Peter Lemme at this time the airplane was flying "at 375kts and MCAS was never designed to trim at these Speed/Altitude combinations".
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