The families of 32 Kenyans who perished in an Ethiopian Airlines crash two days ago will be flown to Addis Ababa to help identify the bodies, the government announced Monday.
At the same time, technical assistance from the international community started arriving in Ethiopia to help unravel what caused Flight ET302 to fall from the skies.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia announced that a multi-agency task force had been created that will be headed by his ministry to coordinate Nairobi’s response to the crash. He asked “everybody to be sensitive because families are grieving and we would like you to give them as much space as possible”.
In Ethiopia, the airline announced shortly before 2pm Monday that the digital flight data recorder (DFDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of the ill-fated aircraft had been recovered, offering the first glimmer of hope for the bereaved families looking for answers to what exactly happened.
Airline spokesman Asrat Begashaw said in a statement that the recovery of aircraft parts and the bodies of the victims, which were strewn on a field near Tulu Fara village outside Bishoftu town, 60 kilometres southeast of the Addis Ababa, was ongoing with the help of Israeli forensic experts.
It is hoped that flight ET302’s black boxes, which some media reports said were badly damaged, will help unravel what happened during its final moments. In particular, they will explain why the plane’s captain, Mr Yared Mulugeta, and First Officer Ahmednur Mohamednur asked to return to Bole International Airport just minutes after taking off.
The black boxes will also reveal the conversations between the crew during the final moments. Since the flight lasted only six minutes, they will also reveal audio recordings from the Johannesburg-Addis Ababa service the previous day. The plane, registration number ET-AVJ, plied the Nairobi-Addis Ababa and Johannesburg-Addis Ababa routes.
Although it is still too early to determine the cause of the accident, the similarities of Sunday’s crash to another in Indonesia in October last year involving a Lion Air plane have raised safety concerns about the Boeing 737 MAX 8.
As with Sunday’s crash, the Lion Air pilots asked to be allowed to return to the airport shortly after taking off. They did not make it, as the plane plunged into the sea off the Jakarta coast, killing all 189 people on board.
The two accidents also involved aircraft that were just months old, further piling pressure on Boeing, whose share price has taken a tumble at the New York Stock Exchange following Sunday’s accident. Tumbling shares in the US aviation giant also tore a hole in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, sending the benchmark index into the red for a sixth day as the crash caused airlines in three countries to ground all flights involving the popular jet and raised fresh safety concerns about the aircraft.
So bad has the pressure been on the US aircraft manufacturer, a global leader in the passenger jetliner business, that it has cancelled the debut of its latest offer, the Boeing 777X, which was scheduled to be unveiled tomorrow.
“We will look for an opportunity to mark the new plane with the world in the near future,” Boeing said in a statement.
By last evening, at least 22 airlines had grounded their MAX 8s as pressure continued to pile on Boeing.
Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines, all Chinese and with more than 90 MAX 8s in total, pulled their fleets from service after Beijing announced that it was grounding all similar aircraft for inspection.
The four airlines joined Indonesia’s Lion Air, Xiamen Air and Ethiopian Airlines, which had also grounded their fleets.
On Thursday, 17 families of those who perished in the Lion Air crash sued Boeing in the United States for failing to properly inform pilots about the existence of a new automated system that is suspected to have caused the disaster.
Boeing did not include any mention of the new system in the aircraft’s flight manual. Further, the system activates automatically “with no notice given to the pilot,” said Seattle-based Herrmann Law Group, which is suing on behalf of the families.