Ethiopian Airlines crew 'followed rules, unable to control jet'

Pilots followed procedure when Boeing jet repeatedly nosedived before crash, minister says, unveiling official report.

    Ethiopian Airlines crew 'followed rules, unable to control jet'
    Transport minister Dagmawit Moges addresses a news conference on the preliminary report on the crash [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

    The crew of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed last month repeatedly followed procedures recommended by Boeing, but were unable to regain control of the jet, the Ethiopian transport minister has said.

    Dagmawit Moges made the announcement at a press conference on Thursday as she unveiled the results of the preliminary probe into the crash, which killed all 157 people on board

    "The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft," Dagmawit said, citing data from the Boeing 737 MAX 8's recorders.

    She said the report recommends "the aircraft flight control system shall be reviewed by the manufacturer."

    "Aviation authorities shall verify that the review of the aircraft flight control system has been adequately addressed by the manufacturer before the release of the aircraft for operations".

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    Dagmawit did not make specific reference to the automatic anti-stalling system which has been implicated in the crash but did mention a "repetitive nose-down" movement of the aircraft.

    The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) is designed to automatically lower the aircraft's nose if it detects a stall or loss of airspeed.

    David Learmount, consulting editor for Flight Global, told Al Jazeera it was not clear what triggered the nose-down, but said that "the crew reacted quite correctly by carrying out a drill that has been prescribed if this occurs and isolated this system that was trying to push the nose down."

    Speaking from London, he added: "But having done that, they then found that one of the control systems that they have for pulling the nose back up again simply wouldn't perform for them."

    'Recover trust'

    The jet crashed on March 10 shortly after takeoff from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. It was the second crash of a 737 MAX 8 within five months, following a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October last year.

    Following the latest crash, Max jets have been grounded worldwide pending a software fix that Boeing is rolling out, which has yet to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators.

    Learmount said the crash has been "terribly harmful" for Boeing's reputation.

    "Boeing has probably one of the strongest brand names in the world and has for a very long time produced a lot of superb aircraft - both military and civilian," he said. 

    "So Boeing really has to work very fast to recover trust because this will end up being like a cancer if it can't sort it out rapidly."

    Dagmawit did not give details of what happened in the cockpit during the fateful final minutes of the flight but said takeoff "appeared very normal" and that all the crew had the requisite qualifications to operate the jet.

    The head of the accident investigation bureau, Amdiye Ayalew, said the full probe would take six months to a year, but that there had been no sign of "foreign object damage" to the aircraft.

    "Within this one year we'll analyse whether other problems are existing on this aircraft," he said.

    Tewolde GebreMariam, the head of Ethiopian Airlines,  said he was "very proud" of the efforts of the pilots in trying to stop their jet from crashing.

    The FAA said in a statement that it is continuing to work towards a full understanding of what happened and will take appropriate action as findings become available.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies