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Ethiopian 737 MAX crash probe clears pilots

Reuters / Share:
Photo taken on March 11, 2019 shows the crash site of an Ethiopian Airlines plane near Bishoftu town, about 45 km from the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Xinhua/Michael Tewelde

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian investigators urged Boeing to review its flight control system and said pilots of state carrier Ethiopian Airlines had carried out proper procedures in the first official findings on the crash of a 737 MAX jet that killed 157 people.

The doomed flight repeatedly nosedived as the pilots battled to control the nearly full aircraft before it crashed six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa in clear conditions, Ethiopian authorities said yesterday.

“The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft,” Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges told a news conference ahead of the public release of a preliminary report.

Boeing’s top-selling aircraft has been grounded worldwide since the March 10 disaster, which came just five months after a Lion Air 737 MAX crash in Indonesia that killed 189. An initial report into that accident also raised questions about the jet’s software, as well as training and maintenance.

Families of the victims, regulators and travellers around the world have been waiting for signs of whether the two crashes are linked, and the extent to which Boeing technology and the actions of the Ethiopian Airlines pilots played a role.

Ethiopian investigators did not blame anyone for the crash, in line with international rules requiring civil probes to focus on technical recommendations for safer flight. Nor did they give a detailed analysis of the flight, which is expected to take several months before a final report due within a year.

But in a clear indication of where Ethiopian investigators are directing the attention of regulators, they cleared the pilots of using incorrect procedures and issued two safety recommendations focused on the recently introduced aircraft.

They suggested that Boeing review the flight control system and that aviation authorities confirm any changes before allowing that model of plane back into the air.

“Since repetitive uncommanded aircraft nose down conditions are noticed … it is recommend that the aircraft control system shall be reviewed by the manufacturer,” Ms Dagmawit said.

The nose-down commands were issued by Boeing’s so-called MCAS software. The preliminary report into the Lion Air disaster suggested pilots lost control after grappling with MCAS, a new automated anti-stall feature that repeatedly lowered the nose of the aircraft based on faulty data from a sensor.

Boeing said it would study the report once released.

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