Investigators in France have taken possession of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet’s black boxes, seeking clues into a disaster that has grounded Boeing’s global 737 Max fleet and left scores of families mourning and angry.
Sunday’s crash after take-off from Addis Ababa killed 157 people from 35 nations in the second such calamity involving Boeing’s new flagship model in six months.
Possible links between the accidents have rocked the aviation industry, scared passengers worldwide, and left the world’s biggest plane manufacturer scrambling to prove the safety of a money-spinning model intended to be the standard for decades.
Relatives of the dead stormed out of a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines yesterday, decrying a lack of transparency, while others made the painful trip to the crash scene.
“I can’t find you! Where are you?” said one Ethiopian woman, draped in traditional white mourning shawl, as she held a framed portrait of her brother in the charred and debris-strewn field.
Nations around the world, including an initially reluctant United States, have suspended the 371 Max models in operation, though airlines are largely coping by switching planes.
Almost 5,000 more are on order, meaning the financial implications are huge for the industry.
After an apparent tussle over where the investigation should be held, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders arrived in Paris and were handed over to France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) agency.
A BEA spokesman said he did not know what condition the black boxes were in. “First we will try to read the data,” he said, adding the first analyses could take between half a day and several days.
The investigation has added urgency since the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded the 737 Max citing satellite data and evidence from the scene indicating some similarities and “the possibility of a shared cause” with October’s crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
Though it maintains the planes are safe, Boeing has supported the FAA move. Its stock has fallen about 11pc since the crash, wiping $26bn (€23bn) off its market value.
It is unclear how long the aircraft will be grounded and a software fix for the 737 Max that Boeing has been working on since the Lion Air crash in Indonesia will take months to complete, the FAA said.
Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling jets have been effectively frozen, although production continues.
And in what may presage a raft of claims, Norwegian Air has said it will seek compensation from Boeing for costs and lost revenue after grounding its 737 Max fleet.
Japan became the latest nation to suspend the planes yesterday. And airline Garuda Indonesia said there was a possibility it would cancel its 20-strong order of 737 Maxs.
Under international rules, the Ethiopians are leading the investigation but France’s BEA will conduct black box analysis as an adviser.
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