United Nations 'united in grief' after Ethiopian crash

Black box discovered at crash site could deliver answers in days, analyst said

UN flags flew at half-staff on Monday as the organisation’s leader paid tribute to 21 workers killed the day before in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, saying the “United Nations is united in grief".

The black box for flight ET302 was found at the crash site, bringing hope for answers as to why the plane crashed just six minutes after taking off.

After the accident, airlines and aviation authorities around the world grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, the company's most popular model, over concerns that there might have been a technical fault.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday paid tribute to the UN workers aboard, saying they died trying to build a better world.

“A global tragedy has hit close to home and the United Nations is united in grief,” Mr Guterres told an audience at the UN General Assembly.

“Our fallen colleagues were women and men, junior professionals and senior officials, hailing from all corners of the globe and with a wide array of experience.

"They all had one thing in common: a spirit to serve the people of the world and to make it a better place for all.”

A minute of silence in the General Assembly Hall followed his remarks.

The UN chief said officers were working with government officials in Ethiopia and organising help, including counselling services, for those affected by the crash.

A minute of silence was also observed at the opening of a UN conference on the environment, to which many of the passengers were travelling.

"Let us reflect that our colleagues were willing to travel and to work far from their homes and loved ones to make the world a better place to live," UN Habitat head Maimunah Sharif told those gathered.

Other victims of the crash included a Ugandan police officer, a Kenyan hotelier, four workers for Catholic Relief and a regional security officer for the charity Care.

The UN World Food Programme flag flies at half-mast at the WFP office in Addis Ababa. EPA
The UN World Food Programme flag flies at half-mast at the WFP office in Addis Ababa. EPA

The route from Ethiopia to Kenya is popular with aid workers. Addis Ababa is a regional centre for air traffic while Nairobi is the home to many international agencies, including the Red Cross and the UN.

Only 62 kilometres away from Addis Ababa, investigators began their search for answers at the crash site.

The vast rough countryside is littered with debris and the passengers' personal possessions.

The black box recovered on Monday could within days provide insights on what caused the crash, Max Kingsley-Jones, executive director at FlightGlobal, told The National.

“Assuming that it's functioning OK, then that will give them a lot of detailed information,” Mr Kingsley-Jones said.

He said audio from the final moments of conversation between the pilots and air traffic control would be of vital importance.

Witnesses to the crash said the plane travelled close to the ground, sprouting sparks before turning sharply and exploding on impact.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Authority, National Transport Safety Board and Boeing are at the scene assisting in the investigation.

Search workers carry a tyre at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash. Reuters
Search workers carry a tyre at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash. Reuters

While the two US authorities that regulate all American-made aircraft establish the cause of the crash, airlines around the world decided to temporarily suspend the use of the Boeing 737 Max 8.

Their caution follows Sunday’s accident and a Lion Air crash with the same model last October, when 189 people died.

Ethiopian Airlines said it would not fly the plane “as an extra safety precaution”, while aviation authorities from China to Indonesia also said they would suspend use of the plane until the cause of the crash was determined.

Other carriers including FlyDubai, United Airlines and Fiji Airways expressed confidence in their 737 Max fleet but said they would await results of the investigation.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 is the company's fastest selling aircraft, flown by more than 60 airlines around the world.

There 371 of the aircraft in operation, says Cirium’s fleet analyser, and hundreds more are on order.

Boeing’s stock price tumbled by much as 10 per cent when trading opened in New York on Monday morning, prompting an immediate drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

But there is not necessarily a direct link between the Lion Air accident and the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Mr Kingsley-Jones said.

He said the similarities between the two tragedies – the same model, a problem early in the flight and an attempted return – were only circumstantial.

“There’s no suggestion that they were suffering any of the problems the Lion Air crew were suffering,” Mr Kingsley-Jones said.

The US Federal Aviation Authority could revoke the licence for the Boeing 737 Max 8, grounding all aircraft in circulation if it finds a safety concern.

But it would be a tough decision, Mr Kingsley-Jones said.

“They won’t take that decision lightly but they will take that decision if it is absolutely necessary," he said.

"The alternative scenario is far worse.”

Updated: March 12, 2019 12:22 AM


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