Black boxes from the doomed Ethiopian Airlines jet arrived in Paris for investigation today as the distraught family of the jet’s pilot broke down in tears at the crash site.
The contents of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder are expected to provide critical details about what caused the disaster that left 157 dead on Sunday.
This afternoon, the grieving family of pilot Yared Mulugeta Getachew wept as they gathered at the scene of the tragedy. Getachew, 29, had been described by the airline as an experienced aviator with more than 8,000 flight hours.
It comes after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued orders for the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet model involved to be grounded.
This followed the lead of other global aviation regulators unnerved by the second crash involving the same type of plane in less than five months.
Long queues were seen at airports in Toronto and Vancouver after Air Canada had to re-book passengers onto new flights as the flight ban came in to force.
On Thursday morning in Addis Ababa, grieving relatives of the 157 victims of Sunday’s air disaster boarded buses for a three-hour journey to the crash site in a field 37 miles outside the Ethiopian capital.
‘We saw where he died and touched the earth,’ said Sultan Al-Mutairi, who had come from Riyadh to mourn his brother, Saad, who perished in the crash.
Experts say it could take weeks or months to identify the victims, as their remains were scattered, charred and in fragments due to the impact of the crash and ensuing fire.
Both the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a Lion Air crash in Indonesia occurred shortly after take-off.
New information from the wreckage in Ethiopia and newly refined data about the plane’s flight path indicated some similarities between the two disasters ‘that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause,’ the FAA said in a statement.
France’s world famous air crash investigation unit
France doesn’t see an unusually large number of aviation disasters, but its plane crash investigators are world famous.
The French air accident investigation authority, known by its French acronym BEA, is now handling the analysis of the flight recorders from the Ethiopian Airlines jet that crashed after takeoff earlier this week, killing 157 people.
Ethiopian authorities wanted European investigators to handle the analysis because of its complexity, according to BEA spokesman Sebastien Barthe. They initially asked Germany, which said it didn’t have the necessary capacity to take it on, so then the Ethiopians turned to France, Barthe told The Associated Press.
And the BEA said yes.
The French agency, based in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget, has extensive experience in investigating crashes and other incidents involving commercial flights. The BEA notably helps with investigations in countries without the resources or equipment to analyze the flight recorders, often called the black boxes.
BEA investigators are also often called upon when an Airbus plane has a problem anywhere in the world, because the aviation manufacturer is based in France. This time the plane was a Boeing, whose popular 737 Max 8 model has been grounded or barred from air space in more than 40 countries pending investigation into what caused Sunday’s crash.
The BEA isn’t saying how long it will take to analyze the recorders – which are actually orange, despite their nickname. One collects data such as the plane’s altitude and airspeed, while the other records the sounds in the cockpit. Analysis typically takes days or weeks, depending on whether the recorders were damaged in the crash.
The French agency insists that its investigations are not aimed at assigning blame but at finding out what went wrong to make recommendations to improve air safety around the world.
Among major crash investigations the BEA has led were the 2015 plunge of a Germanwings jet – whose black boxes revealed that the co-pilot had deliberately slammed the plane into an Alpine mountainside after locking the captain out of the cockpit.
The BEA also studied the flight recorders retrieved from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean two years after the 2009 crash of Rio-Paris Air France Flight 447. The investigation determined its speed sensors had iced over, causing confusion in the cockpit.
An Ethiopian delegation led by the accident investigation bureau has flown the black boxes from the Ethiopia plane crash from Addis Ababa to Paris for investigation, Ethiopian Airlines said on Thursday.
France’s air accident investigation agency BEA will analyse black-box flight recorders, a spokesman said.
The contents of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder that will be examined in France will provide critical details about what caused the plane crash, according to experts.
The acting administrator of the FAA, Daniel Elwell, said he did not know how long the U.S. grounding of the aircraft would last.
A software fix for the 737 MAX that Boeing has been working on since a fatal crash last October in Indonesia will take months to complete, Elwell told reporters on Wednesday.
Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling 737 MAX jets were effectively frozen, though production continued, after the United States joined a global grounding of the narrowbody model over safety concerns, industry sources said.
All 737 MAX jets have now been grounded, flight tracking website FlightRadar24 said. An Air Canada flight from San Francisco to Halifax was the last to land late on Wednesday.
With the uncertainty hanging over the 737 MAX, a French presidential source said European planemaker Airbus and Ethiopian Airlines are discussing a possible new contract as part of the airline’s fleet renovation.
The official said President Emmanuel Macron and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had spoken about a possible new contract during Macron’s visit to Addis Ababa earlier this week.
Airlines operating the 371 737 MAX jets that have been delivered since its 2017 debut said they had cancelled some of their flights and rearranged schedules to use other jets in their fleets.
‘Our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our customers’ expectations during the busy spring travel season,’ said U.S. carrier Southwest Airlines Co, the world’s biggest operator of the 737 MAX.
Boeing, which maintained that its planes were safe to fly, said in a statement that it supported the FAA move.
‘Boeing has determined – out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety – to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.’