JOHANNESBURG – The black boxes of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed in Addis Ababa on Sunday killing 157 people on board were on Wednesday sent abroad for expert analysis, officials said.
This comes after almost 75 percent of the Boeing 737 MAX planes in operation globally were ground, with airlines saying they will only bring them back into operation until their safety is established.
Sunday’s crash, just after take-off from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi followed another disaster involving a 737 MAX in Indonesia five months ago that killed 189 people.
The investigation may focus on an automated anti-stall system that dips the nose down.
The twin crashes have spooked the airline industry and heaped pressure on Boeing, whose shares have plunged.
However, with no evidence of links between the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes, the United States has bucked the backlash and allowed 737 MAX planes to continue operating.
Even as many passengers sought reassurances they would not be flying on a 737 MAX, the world’s biggest planemaker said it retains “full confidence” in the model.
Adding to the pressure, Norwegian Air said it would seek recompense for lost revenue and extra costs after grounding its 737 MAX aircraft. “We expect Boeing to take this bill,” it said.
US officials said the black box devices suffered damage but should yield some initial results within 24 hours of data being downloaded.
More than a dozen relatives of those who perished in the crash, mainly Kenyans who have flown in, went to pay respects at the rural crash site where Flight ET 302 came down in a fireball. Workers set up tents decorated with white roses.
However, given problems of identification of charred remains, it will take days to start returning them to families, probably weeks for some which will require dental or DNA testing. The victims came from more than 30 nations, and included nearly two dozen UN staff.
The US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) acting administrator Dan Elwel said its review had shown “no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft”.
The three US airlines using the 737 MAX – Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines – stood by the aircraft, although many potential passengers took to social media to express concerns, asking if they could change flights or cancel.
However, Egypt, Thailand, Lebanon and Uzbekistan on Wednesday joined the long list of nations suspending the model.
Of the top 10 countries by air passenger travel, all but the United States and Japan have halted flights of the 737 MAX. The EU, China, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, India and others have temporarily suspended the plane.
The new variant of the world’s most-sold modern passenger aircraft was viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades. Though there are no proven links between the two recent 737 MAX crashes, the United Arab Emirates’ aviation regulator said on Tuesday there were “marked similarities” and China’s regulator noted both occurred shortly after take-off.