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Ethiopia to Renew Safety Questions After Devastating Plane Crash

The plane was new. The weather was clear. Yet something was wrong, and the pilots tried to return to the airport. They never made it

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ethiopia, plane crash
FILE - Workers service an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane at the Bole International Airport in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Jan. 26, 2017. VOA

Investigators rushed to the scene of a devastating plane crash in Ethiopia on Sunday, an accident that could renew safety questions about the newest version of Boeing’s popular 737 airliner.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after taking off from the capital of Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board.

The plane was new. The weather was clear. Yet something was wrong, and the pilots tried to return to the airport. They never made it.

In those circumstances, the accident is eerily similar to an October crash in which a 737 Max 8 flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on the plane.

Safety experts took note of the similarities but cautioned against quickly drawing too many parallels between the two crashes.

Alan Diehl, a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said the similarities included both crews encountering a problem shortly after takeoff, and reports of large variations in vertical speed during ascent, “clearly suggesting a potential controllability problem” with the Ethiopian jetliner.

ethiopia, plane crash
The Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after taking off from the capital of Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board. Pixabay

But there are many possible explanations, Diehl said, including engine problems, pilot error, weight load, sabotage or bird strikes. He said Ethiopian has a good reputation, but investigators will look into the plane’s maintenance, especially since that may have been an issue in the Lion Air investigation.

By contrast, the Ethiopian Airlines CEO “stated there were no defects prior to the flight, so it is hard to see any parallels with the Lion Air crash yet,” said Harro Ranter, founder of the Aviation Safety Network, which compiles information about accidents worldwide.

“I do hope though that people will wait for the first results of the investigation instead of jumping to conclusions based on the very little facts that we know so far,” he said.

Boeing representatives did not immediately respond for comment. The company tweeted that it was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew” on the Ethiopian Airlines Max airplane.

The Chicago-based company said it would send a technical to the crash site to help Ethiopian and U.S. investigators.

A spokesman for the NTSB said the U.S. agency was sending a team of four to assist Ethiopian authorities. Boeing and the U.S. investigative agency are also involved in the Lion Air probe.

ethiopia, plane crash
The plane was new. The weather was clear. Yet something was wrong, and the pilots tried to return to the airport. They never made it. Pixabay

Indonesian investigators have not stated a cause for the Lion Air crash, but they are examining whether faulty readings from a sensor might have triggered an automatic nose-down command to the plane, which the Lion Air pilots fought unsuccessfully to overcome. The automated system kicks in if sensors indicate that a plane is about to lose lift, or go into an aerodynamic stall. Gaining speed by diving can prevent a stall.

The Lion Air plane’s flight data recorder showed problems with an airspeed indicator on four flights, although the airline initially said the problem was fixed.

Days after the Oct. 29 accident, Boeing sent a notice to airlines that faulty information from a sensor could cause the plane to automatically point the nose down. The notice reminded pilots of the procedure for handling such a situation, which is to disable the system causing the automatic nose-down movements.

Pilots at some airlines, however, including American and Southwest, protested that they were not fully informed about a new system that could automatically point the plane’s nose down based on sensor readings. Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in December that the Max is a safe plane, and that Boeing did not withhold operating details from airlines and pilots.

Diehl, the former NTSB investigator, said the Ethiopian Airlines pilots should have been aware of that issue from press coverage of the Lion Air crash.

ethiopia, plane crash
Safety experts took note of the similarities but cautioned against quickly drawing too many parallels between the two crashes. Pixabay

The 737 is the best-selling airliner in history, and the Max is the newest version of it, with more fuel-efficient engines. The Max is a central part of Boeing’s strategy to compete with European rival Airbus.

ALSO READ: United Nations, Tech Giants Lead Push for Green Tech Solutions

Boeing has delivered about 350 737 Max planes and has orders for more than 5,000. It is already in use by many airlines including American, United and Southwest.

The Lion Air incident does not seem to have harmed Boeing’s ability to sell the Max. Boeing’s stock fell nearly 7 percent on the day of the Lion Air crash. Since then it has soared 26 percent higher, compared with a 4 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. (IANS)

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Ethiopia Sets World Record of Planting More than 350 Million Trees in a Day

353,633,660 tree seedlings were planted in 12 hours

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FILE - An Odaa tree stands in the town of Dukem, Oromia region, Ethiopia, Nov. 1, 2018. Ethiopians planted more than 350 million tree seedlings on July 29, 2019, in what is thought to be a world record. Pixabay

Ethiopians planted more than 350 million trees in one day, officials say, in what they believe is a world record. Ethiopia’s minister of innovation and technology, Getahun Mekuria, tweeted estimates of the number of trees being planted throughout the day Monday. By early evening, he said 353,633,660 tree seedlings were planted in 12 hours.

The massive effort is part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative, which aims to plant more than 4 billion trees between May and October, or 40 trees per person.The campaign aims to reverse the effects of deforestation and climate change in the drought-prone country.

ALSO READ: South Africa: Unemployment Reaches at Highest Level in a Decade at 29%

According to the United Nations, Ethiopia’s forest coverage was just 4% in the 2000s, down from 35% a century earlier. Besides ordinary Ethiopians, various international organizations and the business community also joined the exercise, which aims to surpass India’s record planting of 66 million trees in 12 hours in 2017. (VOA)