Ethiopian crash involving Boeing 737 Max 8: 6 things to know so far

Wreckage at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines flight ET 302 near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019.
Wreckage at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines flight ET 302 near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jet bound for Nairobi crashed minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa on Sunday (March 10).

The Ethiopian Airlines crash killed all 157 people on board.

Here is what we know about the incident so far.

1. What happened before the crash?

The Ethiopian flight ET 302 left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8.38am local time.

It lost contact with the control tower six minutes later.

Head of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde GebreMariam said that the pilot had alerted controllers "he had difficulties" and wanted to turn back.

This was similar to the Lion Air crash in October last year in which the pilot had also requested to return back to the airport soon after take-off.

Flight ET 302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62km south-east of Addis Ababa, according to the airline.

Passengers from 33 countries had been on the plane, including Kenyan, Ethiopian, American, Canadian, French, Chinese, Egyptian, Swedish, British and Dutch citizens, said Mr Tewolde in a news conference.

The flight had unstable vertical speed after take-off, said flight tracking website Flightradar24 on its Twitter feed.

2. What do we know about the plane involved in the fatal flight?

Mr Tewolde told reporters that the plane was nearly new, having been received on Nov 15, 2018.

It had no recorded technical problems and had flown more than 1,200 hours, said the Ethiopian Airlines CEO.

The plane had flown in from Johannesburg earlier that morning, he added.

The pilot also had an "excellent" flying record.

3. What do we know about the Boeing 737 Max 8?

The decades-old 737 family is the world's best-selling modern passenger aircraft and one of the industry's most reliable.

There are four variants in the 737 Max series: the 737 Max 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The Max 8 can seat between 162 and 178 people, according to the Boeing website, and is a single-aisle jet.

The website also states that the 737 Max is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing's history, accumulating nearly 4,700 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.

In May 2017, Malindo Air was Boeing's first customer to put the aircraft into commercial service.

Other airlines that have purchased the Max 8 include SilkAir, Jeju Air, Jet Airways, Copa Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the biggest operator of the Max 8, with 31 aircraft, followed by American Airlines Group and Air Canada with 24 each.

4. Questions raised about the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8

This is not the first time the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft has been involved in a fatal crash.

On Oct 29, 2018, a Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed into the Java Sea, killing 189 people.

Contact with the jet was lost 13 minutes after it took off from Jakarta, as it was heading towards the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, though both black boxes have been found.

Boeing is already facing a string of lawsuits in the United States by families of the Lion Air crash victims.

5. What's happened after the ET 302 crash?

Late Sunday, Boeing said that it would postpone its planned ceremonial debut of its 777x wide-body aircraft.

 
 
 
 

The debut had been set for Wednesday in Seattle and was to be live streamed, but the company said it is focused on "supporting" Ethiopian Airlines and "will look for an opportunity to mark the new plane with the world in the near future".

In Indonesia, following the Ethiopia crash, its transport ministry ordered local airlines to temporarily ground Boeing 737 Max jets operated by them. The Boeing Max jets should be grounded from Tuesday, the ministry said in a statement in Jakarta on Monday.

On Sunday, an aviation expert, who is also an official at the Indonesian Ombudsman, had demanded that the Indonesian government ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft still operating for Indonesian airlines.

Garuda Indonesia has one Boeing 737 Max 8, while Lion Air has 14 Boeing 737 Max series aircraft, including the Max 8 that crashed last year.

China has since grounded its entire domestic fleet of Boeing 737 Max planes, a person familiar with the matter said, as scrutiny intensifies on the United States manufacturer's best-selling jet.

The country's aviation regulator issued the order early on Monday local time, the person said.

6. What about Singapore's airlines?

On Tuesday, Singapore Airlines announced that its regional arm SilkAir has temporarily withdrawn its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet from service.

SIA said that the safety of its customers and crew is its highest priority, and as of Tuesday morning, all six of SilkAir's 737 Max 8s have been grounded in Singapore and will not be returned to service until further notice.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore also announced on Tuesday morning that the Republic is temporarily suspending operation of all variants of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft into and out of Singapore, with effect from 2pm on Tuesday.

After the Lion Air crash, SilkAir said in November that it had checked all its Boeing 737 planes at the time - five Boeing 737 Max 8 and 17 Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Its pilots had also been reminded then to review non-normal procedures for unreliable airspeed.

SOURCES: Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg, The Jakarta Post, Boeing, The Straits Times