Associated Press and Herald staff
HEJERE, Ethiopia — Much of the world, including the entire European Union, grounded the Boeing jetliner involved in the Ethiopian Airlines crash or banned it from their airspace, leaving the United States on Tuesday as one of the few remaining operators of the plane involved in two deadly accidents in just five months.
The European Aviation Safety Agency took steps to keep the Renton-built Boeing 737 MAX 8 out of the air, joining Asian and Middle Eastern governments and carriers that also gave in to safety concerns in the aftermath of Sunday’s crash, which killed all 157 people on board.
Referring to the Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people last year, European regulators said that “similar causes may have contributed to both events.”
British regulators indicated possible trouble with a reportedly damaged flight data recorder, saying they based their decision on the fact that they did not “sufficient information” from the recorder.
Turkish Airlines, Oman Air, Norwegian Air Shuttle and South Korean airline Eastar Jet were among the latest carriers to halt use of the Boeing model. Ireland, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia and Singapore suspended all flights into or out of their cities.
A Turkish Airlines official said two Britain-bound planes returned to Istanbul after British airspace was closed to the aircraft. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Chicago-based Boeing, however, says it sees no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies. Its technical team joined American, Israeli, United Arab Emirates, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation led by Ethiopian authorities.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the company said: “We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets. We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets. The United State Federal Aviation Administration is not mandating any further action at this time, and based on the information currently available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”
The FAA said it expects Boeing will soon complete improvements to an automated anti-stall system suspected of contributing to the deadly crash of another new Boeing 737 MAX 8 in October.
Some U.S. airlines expressed support for the Boeing model, and American Airlines and Southwest continued flying them. A vice president for American, the world’s biggest carrier that has 24 MAX 8s, said they had “full confidence in the aircraft.”
Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons too soon with that Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
But others in the U.S. began pressing for action.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, called on CEO Doug Parker to “strongly consider grounding these planes until an investigation can be performed.”
Consumer Reports called on airlines and the FAA to ground the jets until a thorough safety investigation is complete.
Even President Donald Trump weighed in Tuesday, tweeting that additional “complexity creates danger” in modern aircraft and hinders pilots from making “split second decisions” to ensure passengers’ safety.
He did not specifically mention the crashes but said that “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot.”
The Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed six minutes after taking off for Nairobi.
One witness told The Associated Press he saw smoke coming from the plane’s rear before it crashed in a rural field. “The plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded,” farmer Tamrat Abera said.
It should take five days before any victims’ remains are identified, Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw told the AP.
A pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told the AP the plane appeared to have “slid directly into the ground.”
Capt. Solomon Gizaw was among the first people dispatched to find the crash site, which was discovered by Ethiopia’s air force.
“There was nothing to see,” he said. “It looked like the earth had swallowed the aircraft. … We were surprised!” He said it explained why rescue officials quickly sent bulldozers to begin digging out large pieces of the plane.
Investigators on Monday found the jetliner’s two flight recorders at the crash site. An airline official, however, told the AP one recorder was partially damaged.
“The engine is here, the wreckage, the humans, the flesh and remains, still we are collecting,” one investigator at the site, Amdey Fanta, said Tuesday.
Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa’s best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four 737 MAX 8s until further notice as “an extra safety precaution.” The carrier had been using five of the planes and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.
Airlines in China and Indonesia, Aeromexico, Brazil’s Gol Airlines, India’s Jet Airways and others also have temporarily grounded their 737 MAX 8s.
As the global team searched for answers, a woman stood near the crash site, wailing.
Kebebew Legess said she was the mother of a young Ethiopian Airlines crew member among the dead.
“She would have been 25 years old but God would not allow her,” she wept. “My daughter, my little one.”