Ethiopian Airlines crash: Black box found as more British victims are identified

Dominic Nicholls

The black box from the crashed Ethiopian Airlines plane has been recovered, the country's state-affiliated broadcaster reported. 

One Irishman and seven Britons were among the 157 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 737 Max-8 jet which came down shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

South Korea is now conducting special inspections of two planes of the same model in the fleet of one of its budget carriers.

In Britain, holiday operator Tui Airways has ordered 32 Max aircraft as part of a major fleet overhaul and took delivery of its first Max 8 in December.

Scandinavian airline Norwegian, which serves London Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh in the UK, has 18 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

On Sunday, a grieving father said he had “never wanted” his “soft and loving” daughter to be on the doomed plane, as it emerged there were no survivors. 

Joanna Toole was one of seven Britons and an Irish citizen who perished when the plane, which was only months old, crashed just six minutes after take off.

The family of Joanna Toole, who grew up in Exmouth, have been informed that she was on board an Ethiopia Airlines plane which crashed shortly after take off en route to Nairobi in Kenya.

The US aircraft giant launched an investigation amid growing concern over the passenger jet’s design. The same model had crashed in Indonesia less than five months ago, killing all 189 people onboard.

The cause of Sunday's crash is still unclear but the pilot of Ethiopia airlines flight ET302 reported difficulties shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa en route to the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

It has also emerged that the US Department of State had released a security alert on March 8, advising all US government travellers “not to arrive or depart [Addis Ababa’s] Bole International Airport on March 10” although this advice was rescinded a day later. 

Ms Toole, 36, from Exmouth in Devon, was due to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly starting in Nairobi. She was, her father said, a committed environmentalist and animal lover who worked for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“Joanna was a very soft and loving person,” said her father Adrian Toole, speaking to DevonLive website. “She had never really wanted to do anything else but work in animal welfare since she was a child.

“Somehow that work took her into the international sphere... That involves a lot of travelling around the world - although personally I never wanted her to be on a single one of those planes... Up until now she had been lucky.”

Ms Toole’s partner, who lived with her in Rome, had telephoned her father to inform him she was on the flight while her employers described her as “a wonderful human being”.

China 'grounds Boeing 737 Max jets'

The crash raises serious questions over the design of the Boeing aircraft and in particular its anti-stall mechanism.

Within the first few minutes after take-off the plane’s vertical speed, the rate of climb or descent, varied dramatically. Its ‘unstable’ vertical speed, according to data from the flight-tracking website flightradar24, went from 2,624 feet per minute to -1216, suggesting the plane rose and fell rapidly in the minutes before it plunged into scrubland. Vertical speed should remain stable - or else increase - after take off.

As the aviation industry reeled from the latest tragedy, China's aviation regulator has ordered domestic airlines to suspend their Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said local carriers had until 6 pm local time to ground the 96 jets of that model that they operate.

Ceremony marking 1st delivery of Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane to Air China in Zhoushan Credit: Reuters

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive in November last year, in relation to one of the flight systems on the Boeing 737-8 and 737-9 series of aircraft. That was published following the crash of the Lion Air flight 610 - another Boeing 737 Max 8 - on October 29. 

The FAA directive warned that an "angle of attack" censor, which is supposed to help to prevent a plane from stalling, could lead to an “excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss, and possible impact with the terrain”.

This “unsafe condition... is likely to exist or develop” in the Boeing 737-8 and 737-9 designs, the directive concluded. 

Photographs from the scene showed the devastation caused by the crash with harrowing images of body parts covered up by plastic bodybags scattered in the wake of the crash at 8.44am local time. 

Boeing announced it would send a technical assistance team to the site of the crash. It said it is postponing the “external debut” of its 777X model and related media events scheduled for this week because of the accident. There is no change to the plane’s schedule or progress, Boeing said.

French-British woman among the victims

Kenya’s transport secretary James Macharia told reporters there were nationals from at least 35 different countries on board, including the seven British passengers. It is thought to be the biggest loss of life of Britons in a passenger jet crash since the shooting down of MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014.

A French-British polar tourism expert has been named in Norwegian media as one of those to have died in the crash. Sarah Auffret was an environmental agent for the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators.

"Words cannot describe the sorrow and despair we feel. We have lost a true friend and beloved colleague," a statement from the Norwegian firm said.

Among the 32 Kenyans who lost their lives was Joseph Kuria Waithaka, 55, who had lived in Hull for more than a decade working for the probation service and was travelling back to the region after visiting his wife and children, who still live in the UK.

Joseph Waithaka has been identified by the WFP as a victim of the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302

His son Ben Kuria said: “My dad was a private man but he also had a pastoral heart. He really championed people... he really rooted for his children.”

His daughter Zipporah Kuria tweeted that her father “was the first man I ever loved. Believed in my dreams more than I ever could. Rest in peace daddy.”

There were also eight Americans and 18 Canadians among the dead.

Theresa May said she was “deeply saddened to hear of the devastating loss of life following the plane crash in Ethiopia”. 

In a statement, the prime minister said: “At this very difficult time my thoughts are with the families and friends of the British citizens on board and all those affected by this tragic incident.”

As many as 50 people onboard were thought to be heading for the same UN conference. The UN confirmed a number of its staff had died while the World Food Programme said it was "mourning" the loss of its employees. Those included the one Irish victim who was named as Michael Ryan.

Among those killed were the wife and two children of the Slovakian MP Anton Hrnko while hospitality company Tamarind Group said its chief executive Jonathan Seex, a Kenyan national, also died. 

Lucky escape

A Greek man said he would have been the 150th passenger on the plane, except he arrived two minutes late for the flight.

"I was mad because nobody helped me to reach the gate on time," Antonis Mavropoulos said in a Facebook post entitled "My lucky day" in which he includes a photo of his ticket.

Mavropoulos, president of the International Solid Waste Association, a non-profit organisation, was travelling to Nairobi to attend the annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme, according to Athens News Agency.

Members of the search and rescue mission carry dead bodies at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu Credit: Reuters

He was supposed to board the plane but he reached the departure gate just two minutes after it was closed. He booked a later flight but was then prevented from boarding by airport staff.

"They led me to the police station of the airport. The officer told me not to protest but to pray to God because I was the only passenger that didn't board the ET 302 flight that was lost," Mavropoulos said in his post in which he admits being in shock.

The airport authorities explained that they wanted to question him because he was the only passenger booked onto the doomed flight who wasn't on board.

"They said they couldn't let me go before cross-checking my identity, the reason I hadn't boarded the plane etc."

Ethiopian Airlines CEO, Tewolde Medhin, visited the scene of the crash where emergency worker Lenora Ayana told The Telegraph that officials were “having a hard time locating bodies with so much debris.” 

'Everything is burnt down'

The plane had taken off at 8:38am (0638 GMT) from Bole International Airport but lost contact six minutes later near Bishoftu, a town 37 miles southeast of Addis Ababa. The plane came down near the village of Tulu Fara.

The pilot had sent out a distress call and was given the all clear to return. A massive crater could be seen at the crash site, with belongings and airplane parts scattered widely.

An eyewitness told the BBC there was an intense fire when the plane crashed. “The blast and the fire were so strong that we couldn’t get near it,” he said. “Everything is burnt down.”

At Nairobi airport, anxious relatives waited for news, many in tears and in distress.

Devastated family members of the victims involved in a plane crash at Addis Ababa international airport  Credit: AP

“I am still hoping that all is fine, because I have been waiting for my sister since morning and we have not been told anything,” said Peter Kimani, who was waiting in the arrivals lounge for hours after the plane had been scheduled to land at 10:25am local time. His sister is a nurse who he said had been in the Congo. “We are still expecting our loved one from Addis... we have just received news that there is a plane that has crashed. We can only hope that she is not on that flight.”

Ethiopian Airlines confirmed it had bought the plane in November and it had “undergone a rigorous first check maintenance in February 2018.” 

A statement from Boeing said the company was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302”, adding: “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team.” 

Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes until more is known about Sunday's disaster.

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.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted his “deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones”. 

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said: “My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board.”

A spokesman for António Guterres, UN Secretary General, said: “The Secretary-General was deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives in the airplane crash.

 “He conveys his heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to the victims’ families and loved ones.”

The crash came on the eve of a major, annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme opening in Nairobi.

Rescue teams work at the site of the crashed plane, watched by hundreds of bystanders  Credit: EWELDE Source: 

What do we know about the airline?

The last major accident involving an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was a Boeing 737-800 that exploded after taking off from Lebanon in 2010, killing 83 passengers and seven crew.

The state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa, calls itself the Continent's largest carrier and has ambitions of becoming the gateway to Africa.

It has been expanding assertively, recently opening a route to Moscow and in January inaugurating a new passenger terminal in Addis Ababa to triple capacity.

Speaking at the inauguration, the Prime Minister Ahmed challenged the airline to build a new "Airport City" terminal in Bishoftu - where Sunday's crash occurred.

Read more: The world's safest – and least safe – airlines for 2019

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