Airlines in various countries have grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner, once touted as the “most reliable aircraft” in the world, after the second devastating crash in five months.
The Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 plunged into farmland minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa for Nairobi on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.
The plane tried to climb but failed, then swerved sharply with witnesses describing seeing flames, white smoke and various objects trailing the plummeting aircraft.
The disaster came just months after a jet of the same model came down in Indonesia killing 189 people, and prompted a global aviation safety scare.
While some safety experts have cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes, airlines in Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and elsewhere have now grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner pending further investigation.
Comair, the operator of British Airways and Kulula flights in South Africa, said it has grounded its 737 line while it consults with Boeing, other operators and technical experts.
It’s unusual for authorities to take the step of grounding planes, and it’s up to each country to set standards on which planes can fly and how those planes are maintained, said aviation safety analyst Todd Curtis.
“If there is a suspicion … that there’s not only something inherently wrong with 737 Max 8 aircraft, but there are no procedures in place to cure the problem, then yes, they should either ground the plane, or there are several levels of things they could do,” Mr Curtis said.
People from 35 countries died, including 32 from Kenya, the most from any one nation.
Canada, Ethiopia, the US, China, Italy, France, Britain, Egypt, Germany, India and Slovakia all lost four or more citizens.
Ethiopian Airlines said the senior pilot issued a distress call and was told to return, but all contact was lost shortly afterward.
“I heard this big noise,” local resident Tsegaye Reta said.
“The villagers said that it was a plane crash, and we rushed to the site. There was a huge smoke that we couldn’t even see the plane. The parts of the plane were falling apart.”
Ethiopian Airlines said its pilot Yared Getachew, a dual Ethiopian-Kenyan national, had a “commendable record” and more than 8,000 hours of flying experience.
Black Box recorders found in horrific wreckage
Investigators seeking to find the cause of the crash discovered the black box with both the cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data on Monday, Ethiopian state TV said.
An airline official, however, said one of the recorders was partially damaged and “we will see what we can retrieve from it.”
At the crash site, local villagers watched as men in Red Cross jackets and masks picked through a large crater, stacking clothes in a heap and wrapping corpses in white body bags.
The dead included aid workers, doctors, professors of literature and botany, a law student, a newly wed woman, a father soon expecting a child, and a couple who just had a baby.
In Nairobi, a major hub for aid workers and diplomats, a summit opened with a moment of silence and tears for the UN members killed. In New York, the 15-member UN Security Council also stood to remember the dead.
Boeing stock prices plunge
Boeing’s share price dropped 10 percent in early trading on Monday at the prospect that two such crashes in such a short time could reveal flaws in its new plane.
The 737 line, which has flown for more than 50 years, is the world’s best selling modern passenger aircraft and viewed as one of the industry’s most reliable.
The new MAX 8 variant, with bigger engines designed to use less fuel, entered service in 2017. By the end of January this year, Boeing had delivered 350 of the new jets to customers, with another 4,661 on order, and they could become the workhorses for airlines around the globe for decades.
Boeing’s stock price fall, if maintained through normal trading hours, would be its biggest in nearly two decades, halting a surge that has seen it triple in value in just over three years to a record high of $631 last week.
– with AP and Reuters
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