Device found at crash site shows jet set to dive

Rescue workers search the site for pieces of the wreckage of an Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft near Bishoftu, Ethiopia on March 13, 2019.
Rescue workers search the site for pieces of the wreckage of an Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft near Bishoftu, Ethiopia on March 13, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • A screw-like device found in the wreckage of the Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed on Sunday in Ethiopia has provided investigators with an early clue into what happened, as work begins in France to decode the black boxes recovered from the scene.

The so-called jackscrew, used to set the trim that raises and lowers the plane's nose, indicates that the jet was configured to dive, based on preliminary review, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The evidence helped convince US regulators to ground the model, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss the inquiry.

France's aviation safety agency, the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) received the cockpit voice and data recorders on Thursday for decoding, while investigators on the scene near Addis Ababa continue to sift through the plane's wreckage.

The second crash in five months has thrown Boeing into a crisis, sending its shares plunging and raising questions about the future of its best-selling jet.

Federal Aviation Administration chief Daniel Elwell on Wednesday cited unspecified evidence found at the crash scene as part of the justification for the agency to reverse course and temporarily halt flights of Boeing's largest selling aircraft.

Up until then, American regulators had held off even as nation after nation had grounded the model.

 
 

The jackscrew, combined with a newly obtained satellite flight track of the plane, convinced the FAA that there were similarities to the Oct 29 crash of the same Max model off the coast of Indonesia.

In the earlier accident, a safety feature on the Boeing aircraft was repeatedly trying to put the plane into a dive as a result of a malfunction.

All 157 people aboard the Ethiopian flight died after the plane crashed near Addis Ababa, the country's capital. The discovery of the jackscrew was earlier reported by NBC News.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2019, with the headline 'Device found at crash site shows jet set to dive'. Print Edition | Subscribe