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EJERE, Ethiopia, March 11, (AP): Ethiopian Airlines has grounded all of its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft as “an extra safety precaution” following the crash of one of its planes in which 157 people were killed, a spokesman said Monday, as Ethiopia marked a day of mourning and the plane’s damaged “black box” of data was found.
Although it wasn’t yet known what caused the crash of the new plane in clear weather outside Addis Ababa on Sunday, the airline decided to ground its remaining four 737 Max 8s until further notice, spokesman Asrat Begashaw said. Ethiopian Airlines had been using five of the planes and awaiting delivery of 25 more.
Some other airlines around the world were deciding to do the same. China’s civilian aviation authority ordered all Chinese airlines to temporarily ground their Max 8s, and Caribbean carrier Cayman Airways said it was temporarily grounding the two it operates. Red Cross workers slowly picked through the widely scattered debris near the blackened crash crater, looking for the remains of 157 lives.
A shredded book. A battered passport. Business cards in multiple languages. Heavy machinery dug for larger pieces of the plane. The plane’s “black box” of flight data and cockpit voice recorder had been found, Ethiopian Airlines said.
An airline official, however, told The Associated Press that the box was partially damaged and “we will see what we can retrieve from it.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to the media. Forensic experts from Israel had arrived to help with the investigation, said Ethiopian Airlines’ spokesman Asrat.
Ethiopian authorities lead the investigation into the crash, assisted by the US, Kenya and others. “These kinds of things take time,” Kenya’s Transport Minister, James Macharia, told reporters. People from 35 countries died in the Sunday morning crash six minutes after the plane took off from Ethiopia’s capital en route to Nairobi.
Ethiopian Airlines said the senior pilot issued a distress call and was told to return but all contact was lost shortly afterward. The plane plowed into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu. “I heard this big noise,” one local resident, Tsegaye Reta, told the AP on Monday. “The villagers said that it was a plane crash, and we rushed to the site.
There was a huge smoke that we couldn’t even see the plane. The parts of the plane were falling apart.” Kenya lost 32 people, more than any country. Relatives of 25 of the victims had been contacted, Macharia said, and taking care of their welfare was of utmost importance. “Some of them, as you know, they are very distressed,” he said. “They are in shock like we are. They are grieving.” Canada, Ethiopia, the US, China, Italy, France, Britain, Egypt, Germany, India and Slovakia all lost four or more citizens. Leaders of the United Nations, the UN refugee agency and the World Food Program announced that colleagues had been on the plane.
The UN migration agency estimated that 19 UN-affiliated employees were killed. Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and some had been on their way to a large UN environmental conference set to begin Monday in Nairobi. The UN flag at the event flew at half-staff.