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Final minutes of Ethiopian plane

By Moses Michira | March 11th 2020

A civil aviation investigator searches through the debris at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash, in March last year. [File]

The ill-fated Ethiopian Airline jet ploughed into the ground at 844 feet per second, fresh details of the accident that occurred one year ago today have revealed.

The impact of the crash meant that Flight ET 302 created a 10-metre deep crater before it disintegrated.

Pilots Yared Getachew, 29, and Ahmednur Mohammed, 25, had valiantly fought to stabilise the plane by fighting the controls, but their actions ended in futility.

These are among the findings of an air crash investigation on the Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 MAX that were unveiled yesterday by the Ethiopian Ministry of Transport.

Kenya suffered the heaviest fatalities (32) in the crash that claimed the lives of all 157 people on board.

Ethiopian authorities hosted up to four family members of each of the victims yesterday at the crash site at Ijere, south of Addis Ababa, to mark the first anniversary. The release of the preliminary report was intended for those who sought answers from various offices, including the US Congress, in the last year.

Design flaws on the Boeing 737 Max were blamed for the accident as captured in the report that also described the tense last moments of the doomed flight.

“The descent rate and the airspeed continued increasing between the triggering of the 4th automatic trim activation and the last recorded parameter value,” reads the report signed by Transport minister Dagmawit Moges.

Erroneous readings on air speed and angle of flight from a sensor on the plane’s left-hand side have been cited as the main fault that led to the accident.

Engage autopilot

It is this wrong information that triggered the plane to engage autopilot in an attempt to correct an alleged flight flaw, including forcing the nose down when the sensor reading had provided a false reading that the flight path was almost vertical.

Moges’ report, citing the anxious moments in the cockpit as recovered from the voice recorders, captured how Captain Getachew and First Officer Mohammed unsuccessfully battled to regain control from the computer-controlled flight system called MCAS.

Flight ET 302 lifted off from Bole International Airport at 8.38am on the fateful morning, in what has been described as normal “takeoff roll and lift-off”.  

Within seconds, readings of flight angle picked by the sensors started varying, with the left one indicating a lower reading than the right, at first.

Immediately after, the reading from the left sensor jumped and the variance with the right side was about 60 degrees.

From the wrong readings, the automatic nose-down trim was engaged for nine seconds before Getachew was able to pull up the plane, after applying force equal to dragging a bag of cement on the stabiliser.

In another 40 seconds, the second nose-down trim was activated with the pilot and first officer responding with a combined “pull up” to briefly regain control of the plane.

In just five seconds on normalcy in the flight that involved manual trimming, the third automatic nose-down triggered, overruling the stabiliser that had already been pushed to the position the aviators wanted it.

“Pull with me,” Getachew directed his first officer in pulling the control column which changes the direction of flight.

This would mark the start of a tumultuous ride with wild tosses pitching the aircraft up and down.

The plane was also flying too low for its air speed of about 630kph. Mohammed was asked by the captain to, once more, help pitch up the plane and raise the speed. “It is not working,” the first officer said in desperation.

A few seconds later, the plane hurtled towards a farm where teff, the staple grain, had recently been harvested.

“Terrain Terrain. Pull Up! Pull Up!” sounded the ground proximity warning system, before the deadly impact.

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