Ethiopian Airlines crash involved same type of plane as Lion Air disaster
The plane that crashed shortly after taking off from an Ethiopian airport, killing 157 people including 18 Canadians, was the same model as the one that crashed following a takeoff in Indonesia, leaving 189 people dead last year.
The crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 is raising alarm bells and safety questions for Boeing’s popular new 737 jet. Aviation analyst Alex Macheras called it “kind of unprecedented in the world of aviation to have this.”
“While it may be a freak coincidence, there is a strong likelihood the two are related somehow, so that’s a concern,” he said in Skype interview with CTV News.
Aviation safety consultant Keith Mackey agreed, telling CTV News Channel Sunday that the Ethiopian Airlines crash occurred “under very similar circumstances” to the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air flight in the Java Sea.
According to The Associated Press, the Boeing 737-8 MAX that crashed in Ethiopia on Sunday was new and had been delivered to the airline last November.
Aviation analyst John Nance highlighted the possibility of a fire on the plane, because the loss of a transponder signal “would suggest the possibility of an in-flight explosion,” he told ABC News.
The tragedy comes just five months after the Lion Air crash -- which also involved a Boeing 737-8 MAX crashing just minutes after taking off.
While the cause of that crash has not been determined, data from the plane’s cockpit recorder showed the aircraft’s airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its previous four flights, although Lion Air said that problem had been fixed prior to the plane’s final takeoff.
A preliminary investigative report did not include any conclusions about the cause of the crash. It did note that the plane’s nose had pointed down 26 times during the 11 minutes between the takeoff and the crash, despite pilots’ attempts to aim the nose higher.
A sensor problem was blamed for a similar issue on the plane’s second-last flight, with pilots fighting an automatic safety system’s attempts to force the nose downward. Lion Air said the “angle of attack” sensor was replaced prior to the crash.
Boeing issued an airworthiness directive following the Lion Air crash, describing what had happened to the plane and how other pilots could prevent similar issues with “angle of attack” sensors on their planes.
“I would have to think every person flying a 737 MAX would know that information,” Mackey said.
Mackey described the 737-8 MAX as a “very automated” airplane, in contrast to earlier 737 models which were largely manually operated. More than 200 of the MAX jets have been produced since 2017 and are in use around the world, including by major Canadian and American carriers.
More information about what happened to the Ethiopian Airlines flight will likely come to light in the next few days once its cockpit recorder is found and data from the recorder is analyzed, Mackey said, although a full report will likely be at least a year away. The recorders are designed to withstand significant crash impact.
“We really don’t know enough about this accident to be able to suggest any type of remedial action that anyone should have taken at this point,” he said.
What is known, according to the airline’s CEO, is that the plane’s pilot sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return to Addis Ababa.
In a statement, Boeing said the company was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew” and that it is sending a technical team to the crash site.
Macheras said the company will need to quickly find out if there are issues with more of its 737-8 MAX jets.
“If they do need to take any action, then the first thing will be to ground the 737 Max (planes) that are flying all around the world,” he said.
As of Monday morning, China's civilian aviation authority ordered all Chinese airlines to temporarily ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 planes.
It said the order was "taken in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for security risks," citing the rcecent crash in Ethiopia and the Lion Air crash.
While Ethiopian Airlines may not be a household name to many Canadians, Mackey said that it has a “good reputation” in the industry. It operates flights to more than 100 destinations, including Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont.
“It’s one of the showcase airlines of Africa,” Mackey said.
With files from The Associated Press