ADDIS ABABA/PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union’s aviation safety regulator on Tuesday suspended all flights in the bloc by Boeing 737 MAX planes in the biggest setback yet for the U.S. planemaker following a crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people.
The move came after Britain, Germany and France joined a wave of suspensions of the aircraft in the wake of Sunday’s crash, and put pressure on the United States to follow suit.
Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker, which has seen billions of dollars wiped off its market value, said it understood the countries’ actions but retained “full confidence” in the 737 MAX and had safety as its priority.
It also said the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) had not demanded any further action related to 737 MAX operations.
The cause of Sunday’s crash, which followed another disaster with a 737 MAX five months ago in Indonesia that killed 189 people, remains unknown.
October’s Lion Air crash is also unresolved but attention has focused so far on the role of a software system designed to push the plane down as well as airline training and maintenance.
Boeing says it plans to update the software in coming weeks.
There is no evidence yet whether the two crashes are linked.
In an unusual move, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it was suspending all flights in the bloc of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and 9 jets pending more information.
VICTIMS FROM 30 NATIONS
Elsewhere in Europe, Ireland, Austria and Norwegian Air said they too would temporarily ground MAX 8 passenger jets as a precaution. Earlier, countries including Singapore, Australia and Malaysia also temporarily suspended the aircraft, following China, Indonesia and others the day before.
The European Aviation Safety Agency, which has a major role in overseeing the design of aircraft and monitors some airline operations, was expected to make a statement later on Tuesday.
Experts say it is too early to speculate on the reason for the crash. Most are caused by a unique chain of human and technical factors.
Given problems of identification at the charred disaster site, Ethiopian Airlines said it would take at least five days to start handing remains to families.
The victims came from more than 30 different nations, and included nearly two dozen U.N. staff.
“We are Muslim and have to bury our deceased immediately,” Noordin Mohamed, a 27-year-old Kenyan businessman whose brother and mother died, told Reuters.
“Losing a brother and mother in the same day and not having their bodies to bury is very painful,” he said in the Kenyan capital Nairobi where the plane had been due.
Flight ET 302 came down in a field soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, creating a fireball in a crater. It may take weeks or months to identify all the victims, who include a prize-winning author, a soccer official and a team of humanitarian workers.
The United States has said it remains safe to fly the planes. Still, two U.S. senators urged the FAA to implement a temporary grounding.
President Donald Trump also fretted over modern airplane design.
“Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT,” Trump tweeted, lamenting that product developers always sought to go an unnecessary step further when “old and simpler” was superior.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!” he added, without referring directly to Boeing or recent accidents.
Anxiety was also evident among some travelers, who rushed to find out from social media and travel agents whether they were booked to fly on 737 MAX planes.
If the black box recordings found at the Ethiopian crash site are undamaged, the cause of the crash could be identified quickly, although it typically takes a year for a full probe.
Boeing said it had been working since the Lion Air crash to enhance flight control software that would be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in coming weeks.
The MAX 8 has new software that automatically pushes the plane’s nose down if a stall is detected.
The new variant of the 737, the world’s best-selling modern passenger aircraft, was viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades and another 4,661 are on order.
In Latin America, Gol in Brazil temporarily suspended MAX 8 flights, as did Argentina’s state airline Aerolineas Argentinas and Mexico’s Aeromexico.
In Asia, South Korean budget carrier Eastar Jet said it would temporarily ground its two 737 MAX 8s from Wednesday, while India ordered additional checks.
Still, major airlines from North America to the Middle East kept flying the 737 MAX. Southwest Airlines Co, which operates the largest fleet of 737 MAX 8s, said it remained confident in the safety of all its Boeing planes.
Boeing shares fell another 7 percent on Tuesday after having lost 5 percent on Monday.
Former FAA accident investigator Mike Daniel said the decision by regulators to ground the planes was premature. “To me it’s almost surreal how quickly some of the regulators are just grounding the aircraft without any factual information yet as a result of the investigation,” he told Reuters.
In Nairobi, the U.N. Environment Program set up a small memorial for Victor Tsang, a staff member who lost his life.
“Travel well my friend, see you on the other side,” said one entry in a condolence book beside a framed photograph, bouquet of flowers and candle. By mid-afternoon, 23 pages of the condolence book had been filled with over 250 names.
Additional reporting by Jamie Freed and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Katharine Houreld and Hereward Holland in Nairobi; Eric Johnson in Seattle; James Pearson in Hanoi; Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mark Potter; Editing by Georgina Prodhan, Jon Boyle and Keith Weir
Jetliner Crashes In Ethiopia, No Survivors, 157 Passengers From 35 Countries On Board
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A jetliner carrying 157 people crashed shortly after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital Sunday, killing everyone aboard and carving a crater into the ground, authorities said. At least 35 nationalities were among the dead.
It was not clear what caused the Ethiopian Airlines plane to go down in clear weather on its way to Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya. The accident was strikingly similar to last year’s crash of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea, killing 189 people. Both crashes involved the Boeing 737 Max 8, and both happened minutes after the jets became airborne.
The Ethiopian pilot sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return to the airport in Addis Ababa, the airline’s CEO told reporters.
Families around the world grieved. At the Addis Ababa airport, a woman called a mobile number in vain. “Where are you, my son?” she said, in tears. Others cried as they approached the terminal.
At the crash site, the impact caused the plane to shatter into small pieces. Personal belongings and aircraft parts were strewn across the freshly churned earth. Bulldozers dug into the crater to pull out buried pieces of the jet.
Red Cross teams and others searched for human remains. In one photo, teams could be seen loading black plastic bags into trucks.
As sunset approached, crews were still searching for the plane’s flight-data recorder, the airline’s chief operating officer said.
Other worried families gathered in Nairobi. Agnes Muilu came to pick up his brother: “I just pray that he is safe or he was not on it.”
Relatives were frustrated by the lack of word on loved ones.
“Why are they taking us round and round. It is all over the news that the plane crashed,” said Edwin Ong’undi, who was waiting for his sister. “All we are asking for is information to know about their fate.”
The accident is likely to renew questions about the 737 Max, the newest version of the single-aisle airliner, which was first introduced in 1967 and became the world’s most common passenger jet.
Indonesian investigators have not determined a cause for the October crash, but days after the accident Boeing sent a notice to airlines that faulty information from a sensor could cause the plane to automatically point the nose down. The notice reminded pilots of the procedure for handling such a situation.
The Lion Air cockpit data recorder showed that the jet’s airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its last four flights, though the airline initially said problems with the aircraft had been fixed before it left the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes until more is known about Sunday’s disaster.
The Ethiopian Airlines CEO “stated there were no defects prior to the flight, so it is hard to see any parallels with the Lion Air crash yet,” said Harro Ranter, founder of the Aviation Safety Network, which compiles information about accidents worldwide.
The airline published a photo showing its CEO standing in the wreckage.
The Ethiopian plane was new, having been delivered to the airline in November.
State-owned Ethiopian Airlines is widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa and calls itself Africa’s largest carrier. It has ambitions of becoming the gateway to the continent and is known as an early buyer of new aircraft.
“Ethiopian Airlines is one of the safest airlines in the world. At this stage we cannot rule out anything,” CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said.
The airline said 149 passengers and eight crew members were thought to be on the plane.
Ethiopian Airlines issued a list showing 35 nationalities among the dead, including 32 Kenyans and 18 Canadians. The list reflected a broad range of backgrounds, with passengers from China, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Israel, India and Somalia. Several countries lost more than five citizens.
Some of those aboard were thought to be traveling to a major United Nations environmental meeting scheduled to start Monday in Nairobi.
The plane crashed six minutes after departing, plowing into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Addis Ababa, at 8:44 a.m.
The jetliner showed unstable vertical speed after takeoff, air traffic monitor Flightradar 24 said in a Twitter post.
The Addis Ababa-Nairobi route links East Africa’s two largest economic powers and is popular with tourists making their way to safaris and other destinations. Sunburned travelers and tour groups crowd the Addis Ababa airport’s waiting areas, along with businessmen from China and elsewhere.
The jet’s last maintenance was on Feb. 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours. The pilot was a senior aviator, joining the airline in 2010, the CEO said.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 was one of 30 being delivered to the airline, Boeing said in a statement in July when the first was delivered.
Boeing said a technical team was ready to provide assistance at the request of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
The last deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger flight was in 2010, when a plane went down minutes after takeoff from Beirut, killing all 90 people on board.
African air travel, long troubled and chaotic, has improved in recent years, with the International Air Transport Association in November noting “two years free of any fatalities on any aircraft type.”
Ethiopian officials declared Monday a national day of mourning.
Sunday’s crash comes as the country’s reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has vowed to open up the airline and other sectors to foreign investment in a major transformation of the state-centered economy.
Ethiopian Airlines’ expansion has included the recent opening of a route to Moscow and the inauguration in January of a new passenger terminal in Addis Ababa to triple capacity.
Speaking at the inauguration, the prime minister challenged the airline to build a new “Airport City” terminal in Bishoftu — where Sunday’s crash occurred.
A glance at the 35 home countries of some of the 157 people who died in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet over the weekend:
- AUSTRIA: 3
- BELGIUM: 1
- BRITAIN: 7
- CANADA: 18
- CHINA: 8
- DIJIBOUTI: 1
- EGYPT: 6
- ETHIOPIA: 9
- FRANCE: 7
- GERMANY: 5
- INDIA: 4
- INDONESIA: 1
- IRELAND: 1
- ISRAEL: 2
- ITALY: 8
- KENYA: 32
- MOROCCO: 2
- MOZAMBIQUE: 1
- NEPAL: 1
- NIGERIA: 1
- NORWAY: 1
- POLAND: 2
- RUSSIA: 3
- RWANDA: 1
- SAUDI ARABIA: 1
- SERBIA: 1
- SLOVAKIA: 4
- SOMALIA: 1
- SPAIN: 2
- SUDAN: 1
- SWEDEN: 4
- TOGO: 1
- UGANDA: 1
- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 8
- YEMEN: 1
- U.N. PASSPORT: 1
Boeing 767 Crashes Near Houston, TX, No Survivors In Crash
ANAHUAC, Texas (AP) — Authorities say a Boeing 767 cargo jetliner heading to Houston with three people aboard has crashed into a bay just east of the city.
Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration says the twin-engine plane crashed Saturday into Trinity Bay.
Lunsford did not know the status of the people aboard and the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
The office said in a Facebook post the plane has been located at the north end of the bay. No other details were immediately available.
Lunsford says Atlas Air Flight 3591 had departed Miami earlier and an FAA alert was issued after officials lost radar and radio contact with the craft when it was about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston
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