Elias Meseret and Yidnek Kirubel, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2019 8:44AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 13, 2019 10:43AM EDT
HEJERE, Ethiopia -- The flight recorders from the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet that crashed and killed all 157 people on board will be sent abroad for analysis, an Ethiopian Airlines spokesman said Wednesday, as much of the world grounded or barred the model and grieving families arrived at the site of the disaster.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Asrat Begashaw said the airline has "a range of options" for the data and voice recorders of the flight's last moments. "What we can say is we don't have the capability to probe it here in Ethiopia," he said, adding that it would be sent to a European country that he did not identify. An airline official has said one of the recorders was partially damaged.
Forensic DNA work for identifications of the remains recovered so far has not yet begun, Asrat said. The dead came from 35 countries.
The crash, which occurred six minutes after takeoff Sunday, was the second involving a Max 8 plane in just five months. And airline pilots on at least two U.S. flights have reported that an automated system seemed to cause their planes to tilt down suddenly.
While aviation experts warn against drawing conclusions until more information emerges from the investigation, much of the world, including the European Union, has grounded the Max 8 or banned it from their airspace. Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa's best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four models.
"Similar causes may have contributed to both events," European regulators said, referring to the Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people in October.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said their pilots had received special training.
"In addition to the basic trainings given for 737 aircraft types, an additional training was given for the Max version," Tewolde told to state news reporters.
"After the Lion Air crash, questions were raised, so Boeing sent further instructions that it said pilots should know. Those relate to the specific behaviour of this specific type of aircraft. As a result, training was given by Boeing, and our pilots have taken it and put it into our manuals," he said.
Tewolde said he is confident the "investigation will reveal that the crash is not related to Ethiopian Airlines' safety record."
The United States, where Boeing is based, is one of the few remaining operators of the plane.
More countries took action Wednesday. Lebanon and Kosovo barred the Boeing 737 Max 8 from their airspace, and Norwegian Air Shuttles said it would seek compensation from Boeing after grounding its fleet. Egypt banned the operation of the aircraft. Thailand ordered budget airline Thai Lion Air to suspend flying the planes for risk assessments. Lion Air confirmed reports it has put on hold the scheduled delivery of four of the jets.
Boeing has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies and does not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg spoke with President Donald Trump and reiterated that the 737 Max 8 is safe, the company said. Its technical team, meanwhile, joined U.S., Israeli, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation led by Ethiopian authorities.
The Federal Aviation Administration also backed the jet's airworthiness and said it was reviewing all available data. "Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft," acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell said in a statement.
Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in this crash could take months.
An Ethiopian pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told AP that the plane appeared to have "slid directly into the ground."
Tewolde said the aircraft was "totally sunken under the ground. Tragically we only found tiny body parts."
More devastated relatives of victims arrived at the crash site Wednesday, some supported by loved ones and wailing.
Others mourned in private. Dawit Gebremichael sat with a photograph of his only sister, Sara, a flight attendant on the plane. She left three children.
"It is customary for Ethiopians to have a body and a proper burial," he told the AP. "But we don't have the body here, and we don't expect anything now."