Ethiopian Airlines crash: Black box voice recorder recovered from crash site

Indonesia, China and Ethiopia suspend use of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft

Members of the search and rescue team  at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines  plane crash. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Members of the search and rescue team at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters


The cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder from the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed on Sunday have both been recovered from the crash site, the airline said in a statement.

The passenger jet bound for Nairobi crashed six minutes after takeoff, ploughing into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, 40 miles southeast of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard.

A farmer who witnessed the crash said the plane had tried to climb but failed. It then swerved sharply, trailing white smoke and objects including clothes before crashing.

The victims came from more than 30 countries, and the UN said they included 21 members of its staff.

Mick Ryan, an engineer from Co Clare who was working for the World Food Programme, was among the dead. Other victims included doctors, professors of literature and botany, a law student and a couple who had just had a baby.

In Nairobi, a UN summit on the environment opened with a moment of silence for the UN members killed in the crash. In New York, the 15-member UN security council also stood to remember the dead.

The incident has raising questions about the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8, a new model that was involved in both Sunday's crash and another crash in Indonesia last October.

In the October incident, a Lion Air plane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, killing all 189 people onboard.

Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general of the US transportation department, told CNN the latest disaster was "highly suspicious" and "rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn't happen".

Provisional flight data from the tracking website FlightRadar24 suggested Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 climbed erratically in the short time it was in the air. The pilot of the plane, as in the Lion Air case, reported difficulties to air traffic controllers quickly after takeoff and requested permission to turn back, Ethiopian Airlines said.

More than 300 Boeing 737 Max planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017.

The latest version of the best-selling commercial jet in history, the Boeing 737 Max 8 is operated by scores of airlines across the world.

The model is one of four varieties of 737 Max aircraft produced by the US aerospace giant. Boeing says it has taken more than 4,700 orders for the single-aisle family of planes, which can carry up to 230 passengers.

Indonesia’s transport ministry on Monday became the latest national authority to order local airlines to temporarily ground the aircraft following Sunday's crash.

Indonesia will begin inspection of the grounded jets from Tuesday and they can be returned to service only after certified by flight inspectors, Polana B Pramesti, director general of civil aviation, said in the statement. Ten of the 11 grounded jets belonged to PT Lion Mentari Airlines, the ministry said, while the remaining one was operated by flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia.

Rescue workers carry wreckage at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8. All passengers onboard the scheduled flight died. Photograph: EPA
Rescue workers carry wreckage at the crash site of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8. All passengers onboard the flight died. Photograph: EPA

A preliminary report into the Java Sea disaster indicated that pilots struggled to maintain control following an equipment malfunction.

Earlier, Ethiopian Airlines, China’s aviation regulator and Cayman Airways suspended their Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft operations following the latest deadly crash of one of the planes.

Ethiopian Airlines said on its Twitter account on Monday: “Although we don’t yet know the cause of the crash, we had to decide to ground the particular fleet as extra safety precaution."

‘Degree of similarity’

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a statement it would notify airlines as to when they could resume flying the jets after contacting Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure flight safety.

“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during takeoff phase, they have some degree of similarity,” the CAAC said, adding that the order was in line with its principle of zero-tolerance on safety hazards. The 737 Max 8 is sometimes referred to as the 737-8.

The cause of the Indonesian crash is still being investigated. The preliminary report, which was issued in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a reason for the crash.

Chinese airlines have 96 737 Max jets in service, the state company regulator said on Weibo.

Caijing, a Chinese state-run news outlet that covers finance and economics, said many flights scheduled to use 737 Max planes would instead use the 737-800 models.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.

A US official told Reuters the United States was unsure of what information China was acting on.

The US official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said there were no plans to follow suit given the 737 Max had a stellar safety record in the United States and there was a lack of information about the cause of the Ethiopian crash.

Cayman Airways has grounded both of its new 737 Max 8 jets until more information was received, the Cayman Islands airline said in a statement on its website.

Fiji Airways said it had followed a comprehensive induction process for its new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft and it had full confidence in the airworthiness of its fleet.

“We continue to ensure that our maintenance and training programme for pilots and engineers meets the highest safety standards,” the airline said.

Singapore Airlines Ltd, whose regional arm SilkAir operates the 737 Max, said it was monitoring the situation closely, but its planes continued to operate as scheduled. – Reuters and Guardian