The search for answers gathered momentum on Saturday when France's BEA air accident investigation agency said data from the jet's cockpit voice recorder (CVR) had been successfully downloaded with fresh details emerging of the final seconds of the flight. The French agency said in a tweet it had not listened to the audio files and that the data had been transferred to Ethiopian investigators.
While experts say it is too soon to know what brought down the Boeing 737 MAX 8 on March 10, aviation authorities worldwide have grounded Boeing's 737 MAXs, as concerns over the plane caused the company's share price to tumble.
A Reuters source who is familiar with air traffic control reporting and has listened to the air traffic control recording of the plane's communications said Flight 302 had an unusually high speed after take-off before the plane reported problems and asked permission to climb quickly.
He said he had a flight control problem. That is why he wanted to climb,” the source said, adding that there were no further details given of the exact problem and the voice, which belonged to either Captain Yared Getachew or first officer Ahmed Nur Mohammed, sounded nervous.
Speaking on condition of anonymity as the recording is part of an ongoing investigation, the Reuters source said:
a voice from the cockpit of Flight 302 requested to climb to 14,000 feet above sea level - about 6,400 feet above the airport - before urgently asking to return"
Flight 302's ground speed after departure was unusually high reaching around 400 knots per minute after departure – nearly twice as fast the normal speed."
Barely two minutes later, the voice requested permission to return, which was granted on condition that he turn to the right due to the proximity of Addis Ababa on the left. Upon starting the turn, the plane vanished from radar at an altitude of 10,800 feet above sea level, the highest it reached during the six-minute flight. Given that Addis Ababa’s runway is at a high elevation of approximately 7,600 feet, it is possible that the aircraft only reached a maximum of 3,000 feet above the ground.
Aviation experts will agree that it is not uncommon for pilots to request air traffic control to climb when experiencing problems near the ground in order to gain margin for manoeuvre and avoid any difficult terrain. It is important to note that Addis Ababa is surrounded by hills and, immediately to the north, the Entoto Mountains.
Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges on Sunday told Wall Street Journal that from the preliminary information collected thus far from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR):
Clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 which will be the subject of further study during the investigation. The flight recorders from Flight 302 that went down shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa for Nairobi were recovered "in a good condition that enabled us to extract almost all the data inside," she added.
While the Minister's address to reporters corroborates information from the Reuter's source, she did not, however, elaborate on what the clear similarities were.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has said satellite-based tracking data showed that the movements of Flight 302 were similar to those of Lion Air Flight 610 which crashed off Indonesia, killing 189 people. Both jetliners flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Shortly after their takeoffs, both crews tried to return to the airports but crashed.
Suspicions emerged that faulty sensors and software may have contributed to both crashes. Both planes crashed within minutes of take off after pilots reported problems.
All 189 people on board the Indonesian Lion Air flight 610 were killed in October 2018 when the jetliner plunged into the sea just 11 minutes after take off. The flight was en route from the capital Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang. Victims' belongings, including phones and Identification cards were later found floating in the water by rescuers.
An investigator found that Indonesia's national safety committee had warned that the plane was not "airworthy" to fly the day before the crash. The Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner had experienced similar technical issues on a flight from Bali to Jakarta, a day prior to the fatal incident.
A preliminary report into the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash is set to be released in the next 30 days.
We are waiting for the results. We are making all the necessary efforts to identify the cause of the accident," Ethiopian Minister of Transport Dagmawit Moges told reporters in Addis Ababa. This kind of investigation needs considerable amount of time to reach concrete conclusions".
Photo Credit: BBC