The Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max pilots followed all the right procedures but crashed anyway, official report finds. Now the spotlight turns to Boeing

  • The pilots on last month’s fatal Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max flight followed Boeing’s emergency procedures but were still unable to control the plane, according to the preliminary report on the disaster.
  • Ethiopia’s transport minister, Dagmawit Moges, delivered the report on Thursday, saying the crew “performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft.”
  • The findings put pressure on Boeing, which is facing questions about its software and how its planes are certified.
  • Ethiopian Airlines said it was “very unfortunate” that the pilots could not stop the plane from nosediving despite following the procedures.
  • Investigators recommended that Boeing review its MCAS anti-stall software and that aviation authorities review its fix before the planes could fly again.

The pilots on last month’s doomed Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max plane followed Boeing’s procedures but were unable to regain control of the plane before it crashed and killed 157 people.

That’s according to Ethiopia’s transport minister, Dagmawit Moges, who delivered the preliminary report on the disaster on Thursday. She said the crew “performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft.”

The government and Ethiopian Airlines turned the spotlight on Boeing following the report, highlighting that the pilots had followed the plane maker’s instructions to try to control the plane and calling for Boeing’s fix to the planes to be closely examined.

Moges said the plane was in a “repetitive uncommanded nose-down” position, a position that is widely believed to have been caused by the plane’s MCAS anti-stall software.

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The system is designed to prevent stalls by automatically pointing the nose of the plane downward if the plane senses the aircraft climbing too sharply.

A preliminary report into the fatal October crash of a 737 Max operated by Lion Air suggested that the MCAS software contributed to the plane crashing into the sea, killing all 189 on board.

After the Lion Air crash, Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration sought to highlight procedures meant to solve any problems with the MCAS software. Those procedures involved disabling MCAS by cutting its power.

Moges did not offer details on to how the Ethiopian Airlines flight’s pilots attempted to control the plane.

The Wall Street Journal cited sources familiar with the investigation as saying the pilots turned off the MCAS system during the fatal descent and later turned it back on while exploring other ways of raising the plane’s nose.

Moges said her government’s investigators recommended that Boeing review the MCAS software and that aviation authorities review the new version of the software before the planes could fly again.

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The 737 Max was grounded around the world after the Ethiopian Airlines disaster.

Reports into the disaster have put pressure on Boeing as well as the FAA over how the 737 Max was certified to fly and how the agency certifies planes generally.

The Ethiopian government report said the Boeing 737 Max 8 had normal certification and the crew had all the necessary permissions and training to fly it, Moges said. The plane was deemed “airworthy” at takeoff, she said.

The pilot and aviation analyst Miles O’Brien told CNN that it was “horrifying” to think that following procedure might not have been enough to prevent the fatal crash.

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“The idea that they would have this troubleshooting system, they followed the book, and it wan’t good enough is just horrifying,” he said.

“They followed the book, and the recovery procedure was not good enough,” he said.

In a statement following the release of the report, Ethiopian Airlines said the pilots “followed the Boeing recommended and FAA approved emergency procedures to handle the most difficult emergency situation created on the aeroplane.”

“Despite their hard work and full compliance with the emergency procedures, it was very unfortunate that they could not recover the aeroplane from the persistence of nosediving,” the statement said.

Boeing on Wednesday said it had successfully tested its update to the MCAS software, which is designed to make the plane easier for pilots to handle.

It said that its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, joined a test flight on a 737 Max 7 plane for a demonstration of the updated software.

The FAA, which is participating in the investigation through the US National Transportation Safety Board, said on Thursday: “We continue to work towards a full understanding of all aspects of this accident. As we learn more about the accident and findings become available, we will take appropriate action.”

The full report will be completed within the next year, officials said at the conference on Thursday.

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