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Ethiopian Airlines crash: all you need to know as 30 nations grieve for victims

The crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi is a tragedy that threatens to leave fresh questions hanging over the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

Few details about the crash are yet available, but according to Ethiopian Airlines the pilot, who was experienced with an excellent flying record, reported difficulties and asked to turn back.

Africa’s aviation safety record has never been good, though Ethiopian has been regarded as an exception. Technical experts from Boeing are standing by for an international investigation into a crash that involved passengers from at least 32 countries.

Here are all we know so far

Carriers ground Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in wake of disaster

Ethiopian Airlines joins China and Cayman Islands in suspending use of the new jets following second tragedy in four months

A man carries a piece of debris on his head at the crash site of a Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines flight near Bishoftu Photograph: Michael Tewelde/AFP/Getty Images

Ethiopian Airlines has joined carriers in China and the Cayman Islands in suspending the use of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in the wake of a crash that killed all 157 people on board on Sunday.

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, crashed six minutes after take-off, ploughing into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, 40 miles south-east of the Ethiopian capital.

The disaster was the second involving the new aircraft in the last four months. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, killing all 189 onboard.

“Following the tragic accident of ET 302 … Ethiopian Airlines has decided to ground all B-737-8 MAX fleet effective yesterday, March 10, until further notice,” the state-owned carrier said in a statement released on Twitter on Monday.

“Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we have to decide to ground the particular fleet as an extra safety precaution,” said the airline, which is Africa’s largest.

The move came after China’s aviation authorities ordered the country’s airlines to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.

The cause of the crash is unknown, but Cayman Airlines also suspended operations of its two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes while investigations continued.

The civil aviation administration of China (CAAC) issued a notice on Monday at 9am local time ordering domestic airlines to suspend the commercial operation of the Boeing 737- Max 8 aircraft before 6pm.

Referring to the Boeing 737 Max 8 as a Boeing 737-8, the CAAC said it made the decision “in view of the fact that the two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft” and had “certain similarities.” 

The regulator said the grounding of the planes was “in line with our principle of zero tolerance for safety hazards and strict control of safety risks”. The CAAC said it would be contacting US aviation authorities and Boeing before restoring flights of the aircraft.

Roughly 60 of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes have been delivered to about a dozen Chinese airlines since the new craft was released. Chinese carriers make up about 20% of deliveries of the model through January, according to Bloomberg. On Monday, two Chinese airlines told the Guardian they had begun using Boeing 737-800 aircraft instead of the Max 8.

Cayman Airways, which also flies the Boeing 737 Max 8 craft, also announced it would ground the planes while the investigation into the crash was ongoing. Cayman Airways president and chief executive Fabian Whorms said the airline was “putting the safety of our passengers and crew first”.

More than 300 Boeing 737-MAX planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017.

In Britain, the holiday operator Tui Airways ordered 32 Max aircraft as part of a major fleet overhaul and took delivery of its first Max 8 in December. Tui was the first UK-registered airline to receive one of the new Boeing aircraft and plans to roll out its orders over the next five years.

Based at Manchester Airport, the planes are due to ferry passengers to a range of holiday destinations from the north-west. The carrier’s German parent company is reported to have bought 54 Max 8s.

Several airlines told the Guardian they did not intend to ground their flights, including Fiji Airways, which said it had “full confidence in the airworthiness of our fleet.”

BOC Aviation, an aircraft leasing company based in Singapore, which has five Boeing Max 8, 9 and 10 aircraft in service with lessees and another 90 on order said they had “no intention of grounding aircraft at this stage or changing our aircraft orders. The data available is limited and we can’t speculate on [what] might have been the cause of the crash.”

30 nations grieve for victims of Ethiopian Airlines crash

UN a ‘house in mourning’ as 19 staff members die along with 32 Kenyan citizens, 18 from Canada and seven Britons

Joanna Toole was the first British victim of the plane crash to be named. Photograph: Facebook

Three young Austrian doctors, an environmental campaigner from Devon, a former Nigerian ambassador and the wife and children of a Slovak legislator, have been named among the 157 people killed after Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi crashed shortly after takeoff.

The plane contained passengers from more than 30 nationalities including 32 Kenyan citizens, 18 from Canada, nine from Ethiopia, eight from Italy, China and the US and seven from the UK and France.

Many of the passengers were en route to the United Nations environment assembly in Nairobi, which starts on Monday. At least 19 people affiliated with the organisation were killed. Not all of the victims have been named so far but stories about those onboard were starting to emerge on Monday.

‘In deep grief’

A lawmaker from Slovakia said his wife, daughter and son were killed in the crash. Anton Hrnko, a legislator for the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party, said he was “in deep grief” over the deaths of his wife, Blanka, son, Martin, and daughter, Michala. Their ages were not immediately available. President Andrej Kiska offered his condolences to Hrnko.

Kenya had the largest number of victims, including Hussein Swaleh, the former secretary general of the Football Kenya Federation who was due to return home on the flight after working as the match commissioner in an African Champions League game in Egypt on Friday.

Another Kenyan on the flight was Cedric Asiavugwa, a law student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Asiavugwa, who was born and raised in Mombassa, was on his way to Nairobi after the death of his fiancee’s mother. Before he came to Georgetown, he worked with groups helping refugees in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the university said.

At least seven Britons were on the flight, the British Foreign Office has confirmed.

The first British victim to be named was Joanna Toole, a 36-year-old environmental campaigner from Exmouth, Devon, who worked for the fisheries and aquaculture department of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The department’s director, Manuel Barange, tweeted that he was “profoundly sad and lost for words” over the death of his colleague. He said she had been travelling to Nairobi to represent the FAO at the UN environment assembly.

Barange said Toole was “a wonderful human being who loved her work with a passion. Our love to her family and loved ones.”

Toole’s Facebook profile states that she lived in Rome, where the FAO is based.

Her father, Adrian, told Devon Live: “Joanna’s work was not a job, it was her vocation. She had never really wanted to do anything else but work in animal welfare since she was a child. Everybody was very proud of her and the work she did; we’re still in a state of shock.”

The family of Joseph Waithaka, a Kenyan and British dual national, said the 55-year-old had died in the crash.

His son Ben Kuria told the BBC his father, who had lived in Hull for more than a decade before moving back to Kenya, was a “generous” man who “loved justice”.

Waithaka, who had worked for the Humberside Probation Trust, saw his son on Saturday in Croydon, London, before flying to Kenya via Addis Ababa.

“I gave him a hug and shook his hand, because in my culture it’s more about the handshake than it is about the hug,” Kuria told BBC News. “I said we’ll probably see you at some point soon. We usually spend a bit more time saying goodbye, but yesterday it kind of just felt routine.”

Abiodun Oluremi Bashu, an ambassador from Nigeria, was also killed in the crash. The Nigerian ministry of foreign affairs said it received the news of his death “with great shock”.

After joining the Nigerian foreign service in 1976, Bashu served in embassies around the world including Vienna, Austria, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire and Tehran, Iran. He also served as secretary to the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the time of his death, Bashu was on contract with the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa.

Michael Ryan. Photograph: World Food Programme/PA

One Irish national was killed; Michael Ryan, a father of two who worked for the UN’s World Food Programme. Ryan, who was based in Rome, was global deputy chief engineer for the aid agency and had been on a work trip in Ethiopia.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Ryan on Twitter, saying: “Our thoughts tonight are with families of all those lost in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, including Irish engineer Michael Ryan.

“Michael was doing life-changing work in Africa with the World Food Programme. Deepest sympathies to family, colleagues & friends.”

Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor with Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, also died on the flight.

The author of “Naija No Dey Carry Last,” a collection of satirical essays, Adesanmi was described as a “towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship” by Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Carleton’s president and vice chancellor.

Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor with Carleton University in Ottowa, Canada, was the winner of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African non-fiction writing in 2010. Photograph: Josh Hotz/AP

Sebastiano Tusa, 66, a renowned Italian underwater archaeologist, was another killed, the Italian government said. He had been flying to Kenya for a project with Unesco.

In a tweet, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said: “We are united with the relatives of the victims and offer them our heartfelt thoughts.”

‘This is a house in mourning’

Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Peter Guschelbauer confirmed that three doctors in their early 30s were on board the flight. The men were on their way to Zanzibar, he said, but he could not confirm the purpose of their trip.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane was believed to be carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members en route to Nairobi when it hit the ground six minutes after departing Addis Ababa on Sunday morning.

Theresa May said she was “deeply saddened to hear of the devastating loss of life following the plane crash in Ethiopia”.

In a statement posted to Twitter, the prime minister said: “At this very difficult time my thoughts are with the families and friends of the British citizens on board and all those affected by this tragic incident.”

The spokesman for the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said he was “deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives”.

“He conveys his heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to the victims’ families and loved ones, including those of United Nations staff members, as well as sincere condolences to the government and people of Ethiopia,” the spokesman said. “The United Nations is in contact with the Ethiopian authorities and working closely with them to establish the details of United Nations personnel who lost their lives in this tragedy.”

Inger Andersen, the incoming head of UN environment, told the Guardian the organisation was “devastated”.

“This is a house in mourning but a house that doesn’t yet know all the facts.”

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said in a statement he joins the international community in mourning the lives of so many. He says the Canadian government is providing consular assistance and working with local authorities to gather further information.

UK investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch are likely to be communicating with their counterparts in Ethiopia to keep next of kin informed.

How ‘excellent’ pilot was unable to avert disaster

The scene of the crash near the town of Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Aviation authorities have begun investigating how a new Boeing plane with an experienced pilot crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.

The destruction of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, which was on its way to Nairobi, is the second calamity involving a Boeing 737 Max 8, a new model that experienced a similar accident in Indonesia in October.

The largest number of the victims were Kenyans. At least seven Britons were on the flight, which left Bole airport at 8.38am local time (5.38am GMT).

At least 19 people affiliated with the United Nations were among those killed, according to the UN migration agency chief. Many were delegates on their way to the UN environment assembly, which starts in Nairobi on Monday. Eighteen Canadians also died.

The pilot said he was experiencing technical problems and asked to return to the airport. The control tower lost contact with the aircraft at 8.44am. Wreckage was later discovered near the town of Bishoftu, 39 miles (62km) south-east of the Ethiopian capital.

The flight tracking website Flightradar24 tweeted that the plane had unstable vertical speed after takeoff.

The cause of the accident is not yet known. The Ethiopian Airlines chief executive, Tewolde GebreMariam, said routine maintenance had revealed no problems with the plane, and the captain Yared Getachew had flown more than 8,000 hours with an “excellent flying record”. The airline took delivery of the plane in November.

“As I said, it is a brand new airplane with no technical remarks, flown by a senior pilot and there is no cause that we can attribute at this time,” he told reporters.

Questions have been raised about the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8, which has been in commercial operation since 2016. The same model was involved in the Lion Air crash, where a jet plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff last year, killing 189 people.

More than 300 of these planes are in operation with different airlines. Ethiopian has six more. Asked whether they would be grounded, GebreMariam said no because “we don’t know the cause of the accident”.

Several airlines around the world fly the 737 Max 8. On Sunday night reports said China had asked its local airlines to temporarily ground the planes.

In a statement, the airline said it would conduct a forensic investigation in conjunction with officials from Boeing, the Ethiopian civil aviation authority, the Ethiopian transport authority other international bodies.

The plane contained passengers from more than 30 nationalities. According to the airline, Kenya had 32, Canada 18, Ethiopia nine, Italy, China and the US eight each, the UK and France seven each, Egypt six, the Netherlands five, India and Slovakia four each, Sweden and Russia three each and other countries one or two.

Sebastiano Tusa, 66, a renowned Italian archaeologist, was among those killed, the Italian government said. He had been flying to Kenya for a project with Unesco.

A Slovakian MP, Anton Hrnko, wrote on Facebook that his wife, son and daughter had all been killed in the crash. “It is with deep sorrow that I announce that my dear wife, Blanka, son Martin and daughter Michala, died in the air disaster in Addis Ababa this morning.”

Kenyan authorities offered support to families and friends waiting at Nairobi airport. The transport secretary, James Macharia, said they would be transported to an emergency centre at a nearby hotel. “It is a very sensitive emotional matter,” he said.

Earlier many people had been waiting at the arrival gate with no information.

“We’re just waiting for my mum. We’re just hoping she took a different flight or was delayed. She’s not picking up her phone,” said Wendy Otieno.

Robert Mudanta, 46, was waiting for his brother-in-law coming from Canada. “We haven’t seen anyone from the airline or the airport,” he told Reuters more than three hours after the flight was lost. “Nobody has told us anything. We are just standing here hoping for the best.”

Four of those on board were travelling on UN passports. . “Early indications are that 19 staff members of UN affiliated organizations perished,” said International Organization for Migration head Antonio Vitorino.

“Numerous other staff members from at least five UN and affiliated organizations are understood to have also perished,” he said.

Inger Anderson, the incoming head of UN environment, told the Guardian: “We’re devastated by what transpired. Obviously many of our partners and colleagues are deeply impacted. This is a house in mourning but a house that doesn’t yet know all the facts.” The assembly’s organisers have shared details of emergency hotlines with delegates.

Several prominent humanitarian workers were among the victims, including International Committee for the Development of Peoples founder Paolo Dieci; three members of Italian humanitarian organisation Africa Tremila, including the president Carlo Spini, his wife, and treasurer Matteo Ravasio; and Save the Children child protection in emergencies adviser Tamirat Mulu Demessie.

The Ethiopian prime minister’s office sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said the crash was “devastating”.

Under international rules, responsibility for leading the crash investigation lies with Ethiopia but the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will also participate because the plane was designed and built in the United States.

Representatives of Boeing and Cincinnati-based engine-maker CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and the French company Safran, will advise the NTSB.

The aircraft had shattered into many pieces and was severely burnt, a Reuters reporter at the scene of the crash said. Clothing and personal effects were scattered widely over the field where the plane came down.

An eyewitness told AFP the plane came down in flames. “The plane was already on fire when it crashed to the ground. The crash caused a big explosion,” Tegegn Dechasa recounted at the site. “I was near the river near the crash site. Shortly after the crash police and a fire crew from a nearby air force camp came and extinguished the plane’s flames on the ground.”

He added: “The plane was in flames in its rear side shortly before the crash. The plane was swerving erratically before the crash.”

The cause of the earlier crash involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Indonesia is still under investigation. A preliminary report focused on airline maintenance and training, as well as the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a reason for the crash. Since then, the cockpit voice recorder was recovered and a final report is due later this year.

State-owned Ethiopian is one of the biggest carriers in Africa by fleet size. It said previously that it expected to carry 10.6 million passengers last year. Its last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after takeoff.

The airline is in the middle of an expansion, aiming to double its fleet to 120 and become Africa’s biggest airline by 2025. It has tripled its passenger numbers over the past decade. A new terminal recently opened at Bole, tripling the airport’s size.

Additional reporting by Lorenzo Tondo

Second new Boeing 737 to crash in four months

Confidence that a newer plane inevitably means a safer plane in danger of being shaken

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photograph: EPA

The crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi is a tragedy that threatens to leave fresh questions hanging over the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

Few details about the crash are yet available, but according to Ethiopian Airlines the pilot, who was experienced with an excellent flying record, reported difficulties and asked to turn back.

Africa’s aviation safety record has never been good, though Ethiopian has been regarded as an exception. Technical experts from Boeing are standing by for an international investigation into a crash that involved passengers from at least 32 countries.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8, a brand new plane only registered in November, disappeared from the radar six minutes into the flight. Immediate comparisons have been drawn with Lion Air flight 610, which crashed just over four months ago, killing 189 people. Flight data showed erratic climbs and descents before the plane, also a MAX 8, came down 12 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta.

More than 300 Boeing 737-MAX planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017. It is the latest iteration of the 737, the world’s bestselling plane, ever more capable of flying autonomously.

Autonomy, however, can bring problems. It is notable that insurers considering driverless cars worry most about the period when highly autonomous vehicles will coexist with human drivers, the uncertain interface between human and artificial intelligence.

Pilots worldwide were angered after the Lion Air crash that subtle software modifications to the MAX 8’s autopilot had not been fully communicated. Nor were they made the subject of mandatory pilot retraining.

The new plane automatically compensates if it believes its angle puts it at a risk of stalling, a safety feature that worked in a slightly different way to that which 737 pilots were used to. Lion Air’s black box suggested the pilots of flight 610 had been wrestling with this issue.

Boeing argued that if pilots followed existing procedures, there should be no danger. Past crashes, however, and most famously the AirFrance flight 447 disaster in the south Atlantic, have shown that the sensors on which aircraft computer systems rely can malfunction, and that pilots who have grown to trust the technology can become rapidly bewildered when things go wrong. All too human reactions led to disaster.

The aviation industry has boasted that it is safer than ever in recent years, and the International Air Transport Association reported no accidents involving a modern commercial passenger jet over several years this decade. Turboprops and old cargo planes might fail, but the worst disasters were ascribed to deliberate acts – terrorist attacks, pilot suicide, Russian missiles – or, in the case of MH370, left unexplained.

Emerging details from Ethiopia may quickly show a specific cause that is completely unrelated to any issues at Lion Air or to the new 737. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Authority, which regulates the company, will hope so. Confidence that a newer plane automatically means a safer plane is in danger of being shaken.

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK/NYT/Sky News/Al Jazeera

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