Ethiopia Says Pilots Followed Boeing Guidance Before Crash

Investigators say pilots were unable to prevent plane’s nose from pointing down

The pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max that crashed last month killing 157 people followed Boeing’s emergency instructions but were still unable to stop the plane’s nose repeatedly pointing down, investigators said.

The Ethiopian government said data from the plane’s recorders showed “repetitive uncommanded aircraft nose-down conditions” and said Boeing should review its aircraft control system.

The country’s transport minister, Dagmawit Moges, did not cite the aircraft’s controversial anti-stall system, but said: “The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft.”

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The Boeing jet crashed on 10 March shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa. It was the second crash of a 737 Max in five months, after the Lion Air disaster in Indonesia in October which killed 189 people.

Ethiopian Airlines said the report clearly showed the pilots followed procedures. “Despite their hard work and full compliance with the emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the plane from the persistence of nosediving,” it said.

Ethiopian investigators said the full investigation could take up to a year, in order to determine what other factors may have been involved.

While air investigation reports do not apportion blame, the Ethiopian inquiry has again highlighted the 737 Max control system. Indonesian investigations into the Lion Air crash have focused on Boeing’s anti-stall system, Mcas, new on the Max model of 737 aircraft.

Pilots on the Lion Air flight, which also crashed within minutes of takeoff, battled to keep the plane pointing upwards as Mcas forced the nose down. After that crash, Boeing issued instructions to pilots on how to override the Mcas system, but the Ethiopian crash report suggests they may not have worked.

Boeing could be left liable for huge payouts to victims and airlines. Lawsuits have already been filed in the US with regards to both disasters, and some pilots have complained that the new features in the Max were not the subject of more comprehensive retraining.

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The manufacturer also faces an investigation by the US Department of Justice, with FBI involvement, into its development process, and Senate hearings into how the Federal Aviation Administration allowed it to self-certify parts of its aircraft.

The 737 is Boeing’s bestselling current model, with around 5,000 orders worth up to $600bn, of which 300 planes have so far been delivered to airlines. Both Ethiopian and Lion’s models had been in operation only for a matter of months before the crashes occurred.

Last week Boeing outlined a planned software fix to prevent Mcas from repeatedly operating, and said cockpit alerts to warn of potentially incorrect data from sensors would be fitted as standard.

Regulators around the world grounded the plane in the aftermath of the second crash, with the US eventually following suit.

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