An Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed on Sunday, March 10, shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa. All 149 passengers, including four Indians, and eight crew members on flight ET302 died. This is the second such accident involving a Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft.
As a result, Boeing 737 Max-8 aircrafts have been grounded in at least three countries, including in India.
The Directorate of Civil Aviation has asked to speak with SpiceJet and Jet Airways over the Boeing 737 Max in their fleet.
What we know about the crash
On Monday, the Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft took off from Addis Ababa International Airport and was scheduled to land in Nairobi.
This particular aircraft was returning to Addis Ababa from Johannesburg before it took off on the ill-fated journey.
The airline confirms that 149 passengers and eight crew members from 35 different countries were on board.
Most victims were from Kenya and Canada. Chinese, American, African, and European passengers were also on board. A diplomat with a United Nations passport died in the crash, as well.
Senior Captain Yared Getachew and First Officer Ahmed Nur Mohammod Nur were in-charge of the flight.
By 11 am, the airline had started search and rescue operations for survivors. It also established a passenger information centre and hotline for families.
Around 2 pm, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam visited the crash site and confirmed there were no survivors.
He also expressed “profound sympathy and condolences” to victims’ families and loved ones.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the accident site and expressed grief at the loss of life. He also made a televised statement addressing the crash.
PM Ahmed’s office tweeted, “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assured that the cause of the accident will be investigated by technical experts and communicated promptly to the public as updates come in.”
At 4 pm, the airline announced it had recovered ET302’s Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder, known as the “black box”. There is no word yet on what the data reveals.
Families took to social media to announce the death of their loved ones.
Anton Hrnko posted on Facebook, “I announce with deep sadness that my beloved wife Blanka, my son Martin and my daughter Michala died in the air disaster in Addis Ababa today in the morning hours. Who knew them, pay them [a] quiet tribute.”
Assistance to Indian victims’ families
Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj informed that Pannagesh Bhaskar Vaidya, Hansin Pannagesh Vaidya, Nukavaapu Manisha, and Shikha Garg are the four Indians who died in the crash.
Manisha’s cousin tweeted that her parents have arrived in Nairobi to receive the remains but need information on how to proceed.
Swaraj responded that Indian High Commissioner in Nairobi Rahul Chhabra would provide all the required assistance.
The airlines said that only after all the deceased had been identified would their bodies be delivered to families.
The Vaidyas’ daughter-in-law Hiral also addressed Swaraj on Twitter to correct their names that Swaraj had reported wrongly.
Hiral added, “Also tried reaching 2 officers but no luck.”
Swaraj replied to Hiral: “I have spoken to son of Mr Vaidya in Toronto. I am shocked you hv lost 6 members of your family in air crash.”
Swaraj also offered her condolences and directed the Indian High Commission in Kenya and Indian Embassy in Ethiopia to help Hiral.
The Indian embassy in Ethiopia added that families of the victims can contact Second Secretary V Suresh and Head of Chancery Mohan Lal.
Lack of consensus on Boeing’s safety issues
At a press conference later in the early evening, Gebremariam said it was too early to speculate the cause of the accident. He added that Ethiopian Airlines, Boeing, and Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority are working to release more information.
The airline also said the flight “underwent a rigorous first check maintenance in February 04, 2019”.
However, Ethiopian Airlines announced that it has grounded all Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft until further notice.
Cayman Airlines has also suspended its 737 fleet. The airline said, “While the cause of this sad loss is undetermined at this time, we stand by our commitment to putting the safety of our passengers and crew first by maintaining complete and undoubtable safe operations.”
China’s Civil Aviation Administration joined the two by grounding all domestic Boeing 737s, citing “zero tolerance for safety hazards”.
China has the most Boeing 737s in circulation.
Jet Airways and SpiceJet, which also operate Boeing 737s, have not yet suspended their use. However, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation will speak with both airlines.
This is the second Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft to crash. However, there is no evidence linking the two accidents.
In October 2018, Lion Air flight JT610 crashed in the Java Sea shortly after taking off from Jakarta. All 189 people on board died.
Why JT610 crashed is still unclear, but Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait said there was an “unspecified technical issue”, which it has resolved.
BBC found that JT610’s airspeed and altitude readings were different for the captain and first officer. The pilots also had trouble controlling the aircraft’s handles.
Livemint reported that, in an earlier flight, JT610’s pilots struggled with the same technical difficulties; however, they were able to control the aircraft then.
“We are confident in the safety of the 737 Max. Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing,” read the company statement.
Boeing’s 737 Max-8 line is one of its best-selling variants. Last year, the company sold 580 of them, which accounted for 72% of the company’s sales.
Reports say that in light of the ET302 crash, the company has now postponed the launch of its new 777X Jetliner.
Boeing has made a statement identical to the one it released following the JT610 crash.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team,” it said.
Also, similar to its previous statement, Boeing added that it has dispatched a technical team to the crash site to offer assistance. The US National Transportation Safety Board and Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau will supervise this team.
Boeing CEO Dennis A. Muilenburg tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with all those on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and their loved ones.”
Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, and Ethiopian Transport Authority have formed a committee to investigate.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.