Report: Ethiopian Transport Official Says 737 Max 8 Jet Crash Has 'Close Similarities' to 2018 Crash

Grounded Boeing 737 Max jets at Pheonix’s Sky Harbor International Airport on March 14, 2019.
Grounded Boeing 737 Max jets at Pheonix’s Sky Harbor International Airport on March 14, 2019.
Photo: Matt York (AP)

Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges said that black box data shows the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 jet shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on March 10, 2019, killing 157 people, bears close resemblances to the crash of another Boeing 737 Max 8 flying with Lion Air that was lost in October 2018 off the coast of Indonesia with 189 on board, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

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The paper wrote that the minister did not elaborate on the resemblance between the incidents, such as whether it involved anti-stalling software believed to be at fault in the Lion Air crash:

“Clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Air Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which will be the subject of further study during the investigation,” Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges said. Both flights were on Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Ms. Moges declined to give details of the similarities that had been identified, including whether Boeing’s new anti-stalling software that has been associated with the Lion Air flight had been activated. She spoke after French air accident investigations bureau BEA had sent the data from both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder to Ethiopian authorities.

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According to the Journal, Moges added that Ethiopian and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigators confirmed the black box data, and a preliminary assessment of the results will be issued within a 30-day timeline. Officials from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and European flight regulators were also present when the data was obtained, the paper wrote.

Satellite data shows both planes had a similar flight profile before they crashed, while reports have indicated that there may be a serious issue with automated control systems designed to reduce the risk of stalling (the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS). A malfunction could potentially send the plane into a nosedive, matching up with reports that the Ethiopian Airlines flight’s captain reported serious issues shortly after takeoff. As the Journal wrote:

The Lion Air crew battled the airplane for the 11 minutes after takeoff before the plane crashed. The system, based on erroneous sensor inputs, thought the crew was about to stall the plane and repeatedly pushed its nose down, accident investigators said in a preliminary report. The pilots tried to recover but eventually lost control.

There have also reportedly been some issues with the level of training pilots certified to fly prior models of the aircraft received before they took control of the newer jets.

Last week, airlines across the planet began grounding Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, though it took a few days longer for the FAA to ground 737 Max 8 and 737 Max 9 jets flying with U.S. airlines (making the U.S. the last major country to do so).

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American Airlines told Gizmodo via a statement that Boeing had characterized the grounding of the planes in the U.S. as the result of an “abundance of caution.” However, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburghad—who has a cozy relationship with the White House—reportedly tried to convince the Trump administration not to issue the order.

While 376 separate 737 Max orders have been fulfilled, some 4,636 orders were still outstanding as of February, Bloomberg recently reported, and some carriers have reportedly been reconsidering whether they want turn to competitors. More than $600 billion in orders are potentially at risk, Bloomberg wrote. Boeing has promised an overhaul of the plane’s software to reduce the risk of yet another crash.

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According to the Journal, memorial services for those who died in the latest crash were held in Addis Ababa on Sunday, albeit with empty caskets, as it will likely take up to half a year to identify recovered human remains via DNA analysis.

[Wall Street Journal]

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DISCUSSION

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While the Lion Airlines crash was at the edge of understanding, if the Ethiopian Airlines crash is for the same reason there is no blaming the machine - the behavior was well publicized following the Lion Airlines crash, Boeing provided the guidance they were criticized for not initially providing, and the airlines were supposed to provide specific training in accordance with that guidance - all of which is under the previous training shown above, runaway stabilizer trim.

It’s not like a robber comes in and plants a bomb and screams at the pilots while waving a gun and a knife - every bell and alarm that they hear they are supposed to have heard and dealt with during simulator and in the air training.

Unexpected stab trim change, no matter the cause, is dealt with as above; it takes less than 10 seconds. Even the original upset pilots, the Lion Airline pilots who had trouble controlling the accident plane on the day before the fatal flight, still eventually figured out that following the checklist would lead them to shut off the stab trim system.

From the Lion Ailines preliminary report:

(PIC = Pilot In Command, SIC = Second in Command, IAS = Indicated Airspeed; there are two sensors)

The PIC conducted the crew briefing and stated that he would act as Pilot Flying on the flight to Jakarta. During the briefing the PIC mentioned the replacement of AoA sensor. The flight departed about 1420 UTC, and during takeoff the pilot did not notice any abnormalities. About two seconds after landing gear retraction, the Takeoff Configuration Warning appeared then extinguished.

About 400 feet, the PIC noticed on the Primary Flight Display (PFD) that the IAS DISAGREE warning appeared and the stick shaker activated. The FDR showed the stick shaker activated during the rotation. Following that indication, the PIC maintained a pitch of 15° and the existing takeoff thrust setting. The stick shaker remained active throughout the flight.

The PIC handed over control to the SIC and announced “memory item airspeed unreliable”. After the transfer of control, the PIC cross checked the PFDs with the standby instrument and determined that the left PFD had the problem. The PIC then switched on the right flight director (FD) so the SIC would have a normal display.

While handling the problem, the PIC instructed the SIC to continue acceleration and flap retraction as normal. The PIC commanded the SIC to follow FD command and re-trim the aircraft as required. The PIC noticed that as soon the SIC stopped trim input, the aircraft was automatically trimming aircraft nose down (AND).

After three automatic AND trim occurrences, the SIC commented that the control column was too heavy to hold back. At 14:25:46 UTC, the PIC declared “PAN PAN” to the Denpasar Approach controller due to instrument failure and requested to maintain runway heading. The Denpasar Approach controller acknowledged the message and approved the pilot request. A few second later, the Denpasar Approach controller asked the LNI043 whether he wanted to return to Denpasar and the pilot responded “standby”.

At 14:28:28 UTC, the PIC moved the STAB TRIM switches to CUT OUT. The PIC re-engaged the STAB TRIM switches to NORMAL, but almost immediately the problem re-appeared. The PIC then moved the STAB TRIM switches back to CUT OUT and continued with manual trim without auto-pilot until the end of the flight.

The pilot performed three Non-Normal Checklists (NNCs) consisting of Airspeed Unreliable, ALT DISAGREE, and Runaway Stabilizer.