The captain of an Ethiopian Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed with 157 people near Addis Ababa radioed about flight control problems just a minute after take-off, a source has told The New York Times.
Quoting an unnamed person who had reviewed communications with air traffic controllers, the Times said the captain two minutes later called “Break, Break request back home” in a “panicky voice” and asked for a landing vector.
Ethiopian Airlines officials have said on at least two occasions that the crew of the doomed aircraft had reported “flight control problems”.
The Times source confirmed this, saying captain Yared Getachew reported a flight control problem in a calm voice about a minute after take-off.
The paper said the plane was below the minimum safe altitude at that point but climbed to a safer height within two minutes of departure and asked to go to 14,000ft.
The air traffic controllers became concerned when they then observed the Boeing 737 MAX going up and down by hundreds of feet and moving abnormally fast.
They ordered two other Ethiopian flights approaching the airport to stay at higher altitudes and it was during this exchange that the captain made his “panicky” request to turn back.
The doomed plane climbed further as it turned back and a minute later disappeared from radar over a restricted military zone.
The Ethiopian tragedy and the crash last October of Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 in Indonesia have prompted aviation authorities around the world to ground Boeing’s newest version of the 737.
The US Federal Aviation Administration was initially reluctant to join the push but capitulated on Thursday after being given new satellite tracking data it said suggested some similarities with the Lion Air crash. It also cited unspecified evidence from the crash site but refused to say what that was when asked by AirlineRatings.
Subsequent reports said the crash site evidence was a jackscrew that showed the horizontal stabilizer at the rear of the plane was configured to make the plane dive.
However, it is still not known what caused the Ethiopian crash or how it is linked to the Lion Air tragedy.
All eyes are now on Paris as French investigators start downloading crucial data from the plane’s black boxes.