2019 in review: Remembering the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy

Among the victims of the crash were 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians and eight Americans.

As 157 people aboard an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane were preparing for a two-hour flight to Nairobi on March 10, 2019, a disaster was brewing.

Friends, relatives and families of the 157 will remember the tragedy that befell the world on that fateful Sunday.

Shortly after take-off from Bole International Airport, an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane with 149 passengers and 8 crew members on board crashed killing everyone.

Captain Yared Getachew knew something was awfully wrong as the aircraft unsteadily dipped and climbed by hundreds of feet.

According to an account of cockpit voice recordings from the airline’s Chief Executive, the pilot radioed air traffic control requesting a return to Addis Ababa airport. He was cleared to return and the aircraft began to turn right, climbing even higher. A minute later, flight 302 disappeared from the radar.

The pilot “reported back to air traffic controllers that he was having flight control problems”, but cited no other issues, CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told Wall Street Journal in a past interview.

All 157 people on board were killed. It was the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 in five months, following the crash in October 2018 of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia, in which 189 people died.

The Ethiopian Airlines in a statement said the aircraft lost contact just six minutes after leaving Bole International Airport. It was destined for the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi at 10:25 am.

Among the victims of the crash were 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians and eight Americans. There were 35 nationalities in the plane.

In a statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the crash as a "global tragedy". Several passengers affiliated with the United Nations had been on their way to attend an environment conference in Nairobi.

Questions Raised

Questions over what could have caused the crash were raised.

The crash was foreseen. An Ethiopian Airlines pilot, Von Hoesslin, told senior managers at the carrier months before one of its Boeing Co. 737 Max jets crashed, that more training and better communication to crew members was needed to avert a repeat of a similar disaster involving a Lion Air flight.

Suspicion over the cause of both crashes was centred on the plane’s new flight control system, Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which can interpose to push the plane’s nose down when it rises.

A week after the crash, Boeing suspended operations of the entire global fleet of 371 aircraft, after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a temporary ban on the model.

Several countries had already imposed bans earlier in the same week.

FAA supported the grounding saying it had uncovered information in the Ethiopia crash that was similar to the Indonesia crash in October.

Airline carriers including Ethiopian Airlines, Cayman Airlines and carriers in China grounded the planes until investigations were carried out into the cause of the crash.

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were recovered from the wreckage of the flight and investigators were hanging onto the black boxes to reveal evidence that could explain why the plane crashed.

In an April 4 statement, Ethiopian Airlines said the preliminary report into the March 10 crash “clearly showed” that the pilots followed the correct procedure. However, it also showed that the pilots left the thrust too high and turned the motor driving MCAS back on after initially switching it off.

Victims compensation

In September this year, Boeing announced that families of those killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash would be paid Sh15million each. The airline said the deadline for submitting claims is December 31 this year.

“Families will not be required to sign away their rights to sue in order to claim compensation from Boeing’s fund,” Boeing said as quoted by CBS News.

Reports also indicate that nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against Boeing since the crashes occurred.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg expressed ‘deepest sympathies’ to families who lost their kin, even as he intimated that he hopes the 737 MAX 8 model would resume operations in October.

FAA, however, said it was up to each country to determine whether to allow the Boeing 737 MAX 8 into their air space.

Last Remains

The last remains of the victims of the doomed Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane crash in Ethiopia in March were finally put to rest a fortnight ago.

The remains were placed in coffins and buried in the deep crater created by the crash.

Boeing’s fate remains unknown as the world continues to question the impact on the most renowned aerospace group.

The 737 MAX planes were later grounded around the world. In October, Boeing announced it would suspend production of the 737 MAX in January 2020, reports ars Technica.