The pilot of the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner that crashed in Ethiopia and triggered a global grounding of the vaunted planes immediately noticed trouble as the plane accelerated wildly after takeoff, the New York Times reported Thursday.
Citing an unnamed person who reviewed air traffic communication from Sunday's flight, the Times said air traffic controllers knew the plane was in trouble even before the pilot radioed in that he wanted to turn the plane around within three minutes of takeoff.
“Break break, request back to home,” the captain told air traffic controllers as they scrambled to divert two other flights approaching the airport. “Request vector for landing.”
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The final moments of the ill-fated flight, in which all 157 people on board died, are considered key to the investigation into Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 to Nairobi. The investigation has even more global significance because it could have bearing on when more than hundreds of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, now grounded amid safety concerns, are allowed to return to the skies.
Air traffic controllers at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport received the call from Flight 302's pilot, Yared Getachew, as the plane's speed accelerated inexplicably. The plane also oscillated up and down by hundreds of feet, the Times reported.
The sudden speed bursts, which are seen in publicly available radar tracks of the plane before it crashed, and the oscillations in altitude are two of the mysteries that investigators are studying.
Within one minute of Flight 302’s departure, the person who reviewed communications said, Captain Getachew reported a “flight control” problem in a calm voice, the Times reported. At that point, radar showed the aircraft’s altitude as being well below what is known as the minimum safe height from the ground during a climb.
The plane appeared to stabilize and climbed to a higher altitude, but then began to speed up again in a way that is deemed unsafe.
The controllers, the person said, “started wondering out loud what the flight was doing," according to the Times. The plane then sped up even more and crashed within minutes.
Investigators on Thursday cautioned that they are a long way from determining the cause, which could take months. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders arrived Thursday in Paris, where French aviation authorities were tasked with probing the black boxes for clues to the tragedy.
France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, or BEA, said there was no immediate information on the condition of the recorders. Preliminary information could take several days to extract, the agency said.
Sunday's crash was the second of a Boeing 737 MAX in five months. In October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people aboard were killed.
The 371 Boeing 737 Max jets flown around the world have been grounded pending further investigation. Also hanging in the balance are orders for more than 4,500 of the hot-selling planes.
Boeing has "paused" deliveries of the 737 Max but that production continues, said spokesman Paul Bergman on Thursday.
"Boeing is facing rough waters, or rough air, in the coming months," Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA TODAY. "Look, you may or may not have a glitch in some sophisticated software. Some pilots were confronted with a challenge and were able to overcome it. Some were not. Why not? This is complicated."
The Ethiopian Accident Investigation Authority sought help because of the sophisticated software involved. German aviation authorities said their technology was not designed for the new type of recorder used on the 737 Max jets.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Report: Ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight had serious trouble right after takeoff