Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 flight 'repeatedly nose-dived' as pilots were 'unable to control plane'

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Tom Clarke

The Ethiopian Airlines plane which crashed last month nose-dived a number of times before it crashed, according to a preliminary report.

Ethiopia's transport minister Dagmawit Moges said the crew on flight ET302 followed all the procedures required but could not bring the jet under control, according to data collected from the plane's doomed recorders.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 jet crashed on March 10 shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.

Reuters reports there was no evidence of engine problems and shortly after the autopilot disengaged the plane's nose was pushed down automatically.

An alarm indicating excess speed was heard on the cockpit voice recorder, with airspeed reaching 500 knots just before the crash.

Speaking at a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ms Dagmawit said: "The crew performed all the procedures repeatedly [that were] provided by the manufacturer but were not able to control the aircraft."

The report breaks down the sequence of events recorded in communications - though these may be revised by the time the final report is published.

  • ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills analyses the crash's effect on Boeing's finances

In a statement Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company was "sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents".

He said: "We at Boeing take the responsibility to build and deliver airplanes to our airline customers and to the flying public that are safe to fly, and can be safely flown by every single one of the professional and dedicated pilots all around the world. This is what we do at Boeing.

"We remain confident in the fundamental safety of the 737 MAX. All who fly on it—the passengers, flight attendants and pilots, including our own families and friends—deserve our best.

"When the MAX returns to the skies with the software changes to the MCAS function, it will be among the safest airplanes ever to fly."

The minutes before the crash

5.38 (UTC) - The plane takes off.

5.39:00 - The pilot calls out "command" (a standard order to engage the autopilot) for the second time in three seconds.

5.39:57 - The captain advised they are having flight control problems.

5.40:44 - The captain called out three times “pull-up” and the first officer acknowledged.

5.40:50 - The captain instructed the first officer to advise air traffic control that they would like to maintain 14,000 ft and they have flight control problem.

5.41:46 - The captain asked the first officer if the trim (a method that keeps the plane at a constant altitude automatically) is functional - he says it is not and cannot try it manually.

5.43:20 - Airspeed clocked at 500 knots (around 575 miles per hour).

5.44 - The plane crashes.

The exact location of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Credit: PA Graphics

'We want justice, not a delayed justice but a quick one'

A sister of one of the crash victims of the Ethiopian Airlines flight said her whole family is grieving the death of her brother again amid the preliminary report's release on Thursday.

Konjit Shafi, who lost her younger brother Sintayehu Shafi in the crash, told The Associated Press that her family is unsettled by the news reports that are coming out all day.

"Today's preliminary report suggests Boeing could have done better in notifying the problem with the aircraft system early on," she said, surrounded by her family members in Addis Ababa.

"This is causing us a great deal of pain. It is so sad to learn that our loved ones would have been spared if this problem was detected on time."

Konjit said her family has not yet decided to hire a legal team and is waiting for the full report to come out.

"We will do what we got to do when it's the right time for us," she stated.

"But we want justice, not a delayed justice but a quick one. I heard the full report may take one year. But that's too long."

The late Sintayehu, a senior mechanic with a Toyota dealership in Ethiopia, was travelling to Kenya to attend a training workshop.

"My late brother was the one who used to drive me back home every day after work," she said tearfully.

"Now I have to walk all the way from the main road to my home. And that's become a long walk."

Mourners paying their respects in Addis Ababa. Credit: Mulugeta Ayene/AP

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Kevin McAllister said: "I'd like to reiterate our deepest sympathies are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the accident.

"We thank Ethiopia's Accident Investigation Bureau for its hard work and continuing efforts.

"Understanding the circumstances that contributed to this accident is critical to ensuring safe flight.

"We will carefully review the AIB's preliminary report, and will take any and all additional steps necessary to enhance the safety of our aircraft."

It was the second crash of a 737 Max within five months, following a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October.

Investigators are looking into the flight-control system known as MCAS, which can automatically lower the plane's nose to prevent an aerodynamic stall.

The preliminary report said:

  • The aircraft had a valid certificate of air worthiness.

  • The crew had a licence and qualifications to conduct the flight.

  • The takeoff appeared normal.

  • Pilots followed the necessary procedure and tried "repeatedly" to bring the flight under control.

  • Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 experienced “repetitive uncommanded aircraft nose-down conditions” which "continued for the remainder of the flight” before the crash.

  • Boeing urged to review aircraft flight control system relating to control of the plane by accident investigators.

The Ethiopian authorities did not attribute blame in their preliminary report and did not give detailed analysis of the flight.

Following the Ethiopian disaster, Max jets have been grounded worldwide pending a software fix that Boeing is rolling out, which must still receive approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators.

Boeing is now being investigated by the US Justice Department, the Transportation Department's inspector general, and congressional committees.

Investigations are also looking into the role of the Federal Aviation Administration in the US, which certified the Max in 2017 and refused to ground the jets after the crash back in October.

The FAA said in a statement it was continuing to work towards understanding what happened.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737. Credit: Mulugeta Ayene/AP

Timeline of the day

  • 8.38am (local time) – flight ET302 takes off from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.

  • 8.44am – the plane crashes around Bishoftu, some 31 miles (50km) south of the capital.

  • 10.48am – Ethiopia’s prime minister confirms the crash on Twitter, offering ‘deepest condolences’ to the families of the victims.

  • 1.35pm – Ethiopia’s state broadcaster reports nobody on board survived.

  • 3.30pm – Ethiopian Airlines CEO and Kenya's transport minister say Chinese, Canadians, Americans and others are among the more than 30 nationalities of victims.

  • 6.40pm – Ethiopian Airlines says authorities, plane manufacturer Boeing and others will investigate the cause of the crash.