PARIS/ADDIS ABABA • Investigators in France yesterday examined the black boxes of a Boeing 737 Max that crashed in Ethiopia, as a spooked global airline industry waited to see if the cause was similar to a disaster in Indonesia months before.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed soon after taking off from Addis Ababa last weekend, killing 157 people.
It was the second such calamity involving Boeing's new flagship model, after a jet came down off Indonesia in October with 189 people on board.
Regulators around the world have grounded the 737 Max - a model intended to be the future industry workhorse - while Boeing has halted deliveries of the several thousand planes on order.
Parallels between the disasters have frightened passengers worldwide and wiped more than US$26 billion (S$35 billion) off Boeing's market capitalisation.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said information from the wreckage in Ethiopia, as well as newly refined data about its flight path, indicated some similarities.
Looking at the crash site photos, the aircraft appears to have nose-dived... It looks that they were not in control of the aircraft at impact.
MR PAUL GICHINGA, former head of the Kenya Airline Pilots Association.
According to two sources, investigators found a piece of a stabiliser in the wreckage of the Ethiopian jet which was set in an unusual position similar to that of the Lion Air plane in Indonesia.
The stabiliser is located on the tail section and pitches the aircraft's nose up and down.
The FAA and Boeing declined to comment.
The Ethiopian pilot had reported internal problems and asked to return to Addis Ababa in his last communications.
Mr Paul Gichinga, a former head of the Kenya Airline Pilots Association, told Reuters that pilots worldwide were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
"Looking at the crash site photos, the aircraft appears to have nose-dived... It looks that they were not in control of the aircraft at impact," Mr Gichinga said.
"The pilot must have got some sort of indication that maybe the air speed was unreliable or something and decided, instead of climbing and going to sort out the problem up there, the best thing was to return to have it sorted."
Boeing, the world's biggest planemaker, has said that the 737 Max is safe. Despite pausing shipments, it has continued to produce the planes at full speed at its factory near Seattle, in the US.
France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) now possesses the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, though Ethiopia is formally leading the investigation and US experts are in Paris and Addis Ababa.
Initial conclusions could take several days.
US lawmakers said on Thursday the 737 Max fleet would be grounded for weeks, if not longer, until a software upgrade could be tested and installed.
Boeing said it would roll out the improvement in the coming weeks.
In Ethiopia, grieving relatives visited the crash site to pay respects at the charred, debris-strewn field where the jet came down.
Only fragments remain, meaning it may take weeks or months to identify all the victims, who came from 35 nations.
Some families stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday, complaining about a lack of information.
Amid the heightened global scrutiny, the head of Indonesia's transport safety committee said it would fast-track a report on the Lion Air crash for release between July and August, months earlier than originally expected.