157 Killed In Ethiopian Airlines Crash
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now to a developing story out of Ethiopia. Early this morning, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff. All 149 passengers and eight crew members were killed. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined. We're going to bring in two voices now - NPR Southern Bureau Chief Russell Lewis, who covers aviation for us. Russell, hello.
RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Hi, there.
MARTIN: And NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta, who has been following the developments. Hello, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: And I'm going to start with you, Eyder. What do we know so far about what happened?
PERALTA: So this was a scheduled flight. It was supposed to be going from Addis Ababa to Nairobi this morning. It took off at about 8:38 in the morning. But by about 8:44 a.m., the plane had crashed, so that's about six minutes into its flight. The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines said that this was a brand-new Boeing plane. They received it in November, and it had already flown about 1,200 hours. And it had a good record. They said that there was nothing they had seen that would tell them that something was wrong with this plane. In fact, it flew this morning from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa without incident.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about the safety record of Ethiopian Airlines?
PERALTA: Ethiopian is a very safe airline. It - you know, it did have a deadly crash in 2010 that was weather-related. But, you know, right now, it is the largest airline on the continent, and it's a very trustworthy airline.
MARTIN: Russell, what can you tell us about the aircraft?
LEWIS: Well, as Eyder says, you know, it was relatively new. It was a Boeing 737 MAX-8. The plane's first flight was just last October, you know? At a news conference today, Ethiopian Airlines said that the captain had flown with the company for about nine years and had 8,000 hours of flight experience. The first officer, though, had 200 hours, which, in terms of flight times, is really not very much at all. And the airline did say that the plane had a - what they're calling a, quote, "rigorous first maintenance check" just last month.
MARTIN: So should travelers be worried about flying on this particular type of airplane? And has Boeing had any more to say about this so far?
PERALTA: Well, I mean, that's a harder question to answer. I mean, it's really hard to say at this point, you know? I would say, you know, should travelers be worried about flying? Probably not. But there are now many questions about this type of airplane. There have now been two fatal crashes in six months, each of them under fairly similar circumstances. The Boeing 737 Max has only been flying since 2017. Let me tell you what we know. As Eyder said, the flight today, an Ethiopian, crashed just minutes after takeoff. That's the same thing that happened with the other crash. The pilots of both of the doomed airliners radioed to air traffic controllers that they were having control issues and wanted to return to land. And, at some point, both planes nosed over and crashed at high speed, killing everyone on board.
There still hasn't been a final investigative report from the Lion Air crash in Indonesia. And, obviously, with today's Ethiopian crash, it is far too early to know or even really speculate what might have happened. And we should point out that crashes are often the result of many factors. But we do know that some of the initial investigations in the Lion Air crash that the crew was dealing with a series of inaccurate information from the plane's sensors and an automatic flight control system that kept attempting to push the nose of the aircraft down. Boeing had installed a new type of aerodynamic stall prevention system on the MAX, and that is one of the areas that investigators are looking at in last October's crash of Lion Air.
We should point out, Michel, too, that Boeing has been making variations of the Boeing 737 since the 1960s, and it is the world's best-selling jetliner. In the U.S., there are three airlines that are flying the MAX variant - American, Southwest and United. And, today, Boeing said that it is sending a technical team to investigate what happened along with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also sending a team to Africa.
MARTIN: Eyder, finally, what do we know about those who were killed in this crash?
PERALTA: Yeah. So we know that there were some staff from the United Nations, from the World Food Programme and Save the Children. The charity says that they lost one of their staff members. They said that he was tireless in his effort to keep children safe during the crisis. So it's people from about 30 nationalities and eight Americans among them.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi, Kenya, and NPR's Russell Lewis in Birmingham, Ala. Gentlemen, thank you both so much.
LEWIS: You're welcome.
PERALTA: Thank you, Michel.
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