China Grounds Boeing Plane After Ethiopian Flight Crashes, Killing All On Board

Mar 10, 2019
Originally published on March 13, 2019 12:52 am

Updated at 4:30 a.m. ET Monday

China is grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in the country after Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed Sunday morning, killing everyone on board, including eight Chinese nationals, according to reports.

The plane, which crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, had 149 passengers and eight crew members on board, the airline said. There were no survivors.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said it is grounding the aircraft indefinitely "in line with the management principle of zero tolerance for security risks," the Associated Press reported. This is the second Boeing 737 Max 8 to crash in recent months. The Lion Air jet in Indonesia crashed into the Java Sea in October, also just minutes after take-off.

Reuters reports Chinese airlines have ninety-six 737 Max 8 jets in service across multiple airlines. By the end of January, 350 of the 737 Max family jets had been delivered to customers, with more than 4,600 on order, Reuters said.

"It is highly unusual for regulators in a major country to take such a step before a similar move by regulators in the country that certified the aircraft type," The Wall Street Journal reported. The decision was made before U.S. investigators reached the crash site, the Journal said.

Caribbean airline Cayman Airways said it would also temporarily ground its two 737 Max 8 planes. And Indonesian officials planned to meet Monday to decide whether to ground the planes there, the Journal reported.

The cause of the crash Sunday remains unknown, and Ethiopian Airlines "said that there was nothing they had seen that would tell them that something was wrong with this plane," NPR's Eyder Peralta reported on All Things Considered. According to the airline, inspectors last conducted maintenance on the aircraft on Feb. 4.

The plane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, had flown from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa earlier Sunday morning without incident.

A technical team from Boeing will be traveling to the crash site to help in the investigation, the company said in a statement, as will a team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane was carrying passengers from more than 30 countries, the airline's CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, told reporters. The victims include 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians, eight Italians, eight Chinese, eight Americans, seven British citizens, seven French citizens, six Egyptians, five Dutch citizens, four Indians, four Slovakians, three Austrians, three Swedes, three Russians, two Moroccans, two Spaniards, two Poles, two Israelis and two Nigerians.

Details emerged Monday about the passengers who perished. Three Austrian physicians, the co-founder of an international aid organization, and the former secretary general of the Football Kenya Federation were among those on board, the AP reported.

Nineteen United Nations staff lost their lives, the U.N. said in a statement. Among those were seven staffers of the World Food Programme; six staff from the U.N. Office in Nairobi; two each from the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees and the International Telecommunications Union; and one each from the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Organization for Migration in Sudan, World Bank, and UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.

A third-year student at Georgetown Law was also among those killed. According to a statement put out by university, Cedric Asiavugwa had been on his way to Nairobi after his fiancee's mother died. Asiavugwa was born and raised in Kenya and helped refugees in Africa before attending law school.

"My thoughts are with the families and friends of these distinguished Nigerians and the other passengers and crew who lost their lives," Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement. "May the Almighty Allah give them strength and fortitude to bear the loss."

Ethiopian Airlines said its CEO "expresses his profound sympathy and condolences to the families and loves ones of passengers and crew who lost their lives in this tragic accident."

The plane was on a regularly scheduled flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi when it took a nose dive near Bishoftu, a town about 37 miles southeast of Addis Ababa.

The aircraft model was the same as that of the Lion Air plane that crashed into the Java Sea last October. That jet similarly went down just minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. Cockpit data indicated that the plane's airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its previous four flights.

The two incidents are similar, but it is not yet clear if Sunday's crash was caused by the same malfunction. The Ethiopian Airlines plane was "brand new" and had been delivered to the airline in November, GebreMariam said. It was being flown by a "senior pilot" who had worked for the airline since 2010.

According to the airline, the plane lost contact with the control tower six minutes after takeoff. Before losing contact, GebreMariam said, the pilot sent a distress call and was given approval to return to the tarmac. According to reports, visibility was clear.

The airline tweeted a photo of GebreMariam standing in a crater at the crash site, surrounded by debris and blue skies.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office expressed its "deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning."

"Ethiopian is Africa's biggest airline, and recently the airport in Addis Ababa overtook Dubai as the leading gateway to sub-Saharan Africa," Peralta reports.

"Its last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after take-off," Reuters reports.

Correction : 3/10/19

A previous photo caption incorrectly identified the aircraft in the photo as an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8, the same model of the airplane in Monday's crash. It was not the same type of plane. We have removed the photo and corresponding caption.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.