Ethiopian Airlines Crash Report ‘Raises More Questions’

Experts Reveal Concerns Over Handling Of Investigation On Second Anniversary Of Fatal Air Disaster

25.01.2012

Aviation lawyers representing the family of the British passenger killed when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed shortly after take-off from Beirut Airport have revealed their concerns after the final accident report raised a number of questions over the investigation into the incident.

The report concluded that the cause of the crash on 25 January 2010, which led to the deaths of all 90 people on board, was pilot error and outlined information from the flight data recorder which highlighted how the aircraft began to fly erratically then lost control just minutes after take-off.

However, Jim Morris, a former RAF Boeing pilot and partner in the Irwin Mitchell Aviation Law Practice, is surprised the outcome of the investigation is that the sole cause of the crash was pilot error.

He outlined: “The lack of control over the aircraft is astonishing. How to recover quickly from unusual aircraft attitudes is a key aspect of basic flying training and should be instinctively applied by any professionally qualified pilot.

“With over 10,000 hours flying experience, the prompt application of the basic techniques should not have been an issue for the captain.  However, from an early stage he was having difficulty with the simple task of flying a selected heading.

“From then on the evidence indicates that the aircraft never returned to controlled flight as it continued to enter into extremely unusual flight attitudes for around three minutes, until it eventually plunged into the sea.  My reconstruction of the accident in a Boeing 737-800 flight simulator and Boeing’s analysis in the investigation confirms that a serviceable aircraft could have been recovered to controlled flight, using the basic techniques, at any point right up until the final seconds of the flight.

“It is also worth noting that it appears that the co-pilot failed to provide the level of assistance that would normally be expected when an airliner behaves so strangely, which suggests that both the captain and co-pilot  were not performing to the expected standard. 

“If the accident report is correct, and nothing was wrong with the aircraft, something seriously went wrong with the crew. The report is inconclusive as to what precisely caused problems with the crew – it mentions remarks concerning strange effects following a meal they both had eaten and possible subtle incapacitation of the captain but, as there was no autopsy, the investigation was not able to find any medical evidence to assist in identifying factors that could have degraded the crews performance.”

Jim added that relations between Ethiopia and Lebanon also appear to have prevented further answers from being provided over the whether any mechanical or structural issues may have played a part in the incident.

The latter reportedly refused to allow Ethiopian Airlines to pay for the recovery of the wreckage, meaning just eight per cent of the aircraft was recovered.  Ethiopian Airlines are adamant that they believe the erratic manoeuvres were due to a problem with the aircraft.

“The lack of analysis of the wreckage is concerning because it means that a structural problem with the aircraft or its controls cannot be completely ruled out,” he explained.

“For example, there have been previous cases where Boeing 737 spoiler, rudder and elevator systems have caused problems during flight. Sadly, the failure to recover the aircraft means important questions will always remain unanswered and the improvement of flight safety potentially hindered.

“It looks like the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy will become another example of an air accident investigation where not enough has been done to rule out all possibilities as to the causes of the accident.” 

Clive Garner, head of the Irwin Mitchell Aviation Law team, added: “This accident and investigation bears similarities to the Kenya Airways crash in 2007.  In that accident I represented the family members of British passengers who were tragically killed when the Boeing 737-800 crashed shortly after takeoff. 

“Unfortunately that accident investigation also did not recover the wreckage to rule out a problem with the aircraft structure or controls.  It is very worrying that Ethiopia states that it officially requested the retrieval of the aircraft wreckage at its own cost, but the investigator in charge declined the offer meaning that 92% of the wreckage remains on the sea bed. 

“This lack of cooperation and analysis of the wreckage not only reduces confidence in the report and its contribution to improving flight safety, it is also devastating for the families who have lost their loved ones, as it simply raises more questions and suspicions in their minds.”