Ethiopian 737 trailing smoke before impact; Aussies suspend planes

by Geoffrey Thomas and Steve Creedy
March 12, 2019
Ethiopian Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines' hub at Addis Ababa. Photo: Andreas Spaeth

The Ethiopian 737 MAX that crashed Sunday was trailing smoke before impact according to a Reuters report.

Flight 302 was on a flight from the Ethiopian capital to Nairobi with 157 passengers and crew. All perished.

READ: Virgin Australia pilots defend the 737 MAX

Reuters says it interviewed “half a dozen witnesses in the farmland where the plane came down” and they all reported, “smoke billowing out behind, while four of them also described a loud sound.”

“It was a loud rattling sound. Like straining and shaking metal,” said Turn Buzuna, a 26-year-old housewife and farmer who lives about 300 meters (328 yards) from the crash site.

“Everyone says they have never heard that kind of sound from a plane and they are under a flight path,” she told Reuters.

These revelations would appear to rule out any link to the Lion Air crash last October which involved the same type of aircraft.

Many media have linked the two crashes and Boeing appears to be losing the public relations battle, at least for now.

It has a technical team at the crash site as does the US National Transportation Safety Board and the US Federal Aviation Administration.

An important breakthrough has been the discovery of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders which will help shed light on the events that overtook the aircraft.

Aviation authorities in China and Indonesia moved quickly to suspend 737 MAX operations and the jurisdictions temporarily banning the plane widened Tuesday to include Australia and Singapore.

Regulators in both countries suspended 737 MAX operations to and from their airports.

Only two foreign airlines fly the MAX to Australia: Singapore-based SilkAir and Fiji Airways

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the temporary suspension was in the best interests of safety in light of the two recent accidents involving MAX aircraft.

CASA said it was closely monitoring the situation and the suspension would be reviewed as relevant safety information became available from Boeing, the FAA and accident investigators.

“This is a temporary suspension while we wait for more information to review the safety risks of continued operations of the Boeing 737 MAX to and from Australia.” CASA boss Shane Carmody said.

“CASA regrets any inconvenience to passengers but believes it is important to always put safety first.”

Fiji Airways said it had suspended its Boeing 737 MAX operations to and from Australia in compliance with the CASA directive.

The airline has three 737-800s and a 737-700 it can use as replacements as well as widebody A330s.

“While Fiji Airways is confident in the airworthiness of our Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft and our robust training programme, we respect CASA’s position,” the airline said..
“As such, we will be changing the aircraft type operating to/from Sydney, Brisbane. Melbourne and Adelaide until further advised. Some schedule changes are likely and affected customers will be notified.”

SilkAir parent Singapore Airlines had temporarily withdrawn its six Max 8’s from service before the CASA announcement, saying the safety of its customers and crew was its highest priority.

“As of this morning, all six aircraft have been grounded in Singapore and will not be returned to service until further notice,” spokesman Karl Schubert said. “Our 17 Boeing 737-800NGs are not affected.

“The withdrawal from service of the 737 MAX 8 fleet will have an impact on some of the airline’s flight schedules. Customers who may be affected by flight disruptions will be contacted for reaccommodation.”

The Australians said they were working with Fiji Airlines to minimize any disruptions and allow it to replace its 737 Max aircraft with other types.

Also Downunder, Virgin Australia took a more cautious approach to its upcoming deliveries of the plane that fueled speculation it may be wavering on its decision to take 30 MAX aircraft starting later this year.

The airline reiterated its commitment to the MAX after the Lion Air crash but his been more circumspect in the wake of the second crash.

It said it was watching the situation closely and monitoring any updates from Boeing and investigating authorities.

“There are currently no Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in our fleet and it is too early for us to make comment on our order,” it said in a statement.

“With our first aircraft delivery not due until November this year, we believe there is sufficient time to consider the outcome of the investigation and make an assessment.

“We will continue to work with Boeing and the relevant authorities as more information becomes available.”