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Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 is Second Boeing 737 Max8 Fatal Crash in Five Months; Is it time to ground all 737 Max8 and 9 Airplanes?

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max8 crashed shortly after takeoff on March 10, 2019, killing all 157 aboard after the pilots reportedly lost control of the new jet on its first flight of the day.

An experienced Ethiopian Airlines pilot was at the controls as the airplane took off from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, heading to Nairobi, Kenya. Shortly after takeoff, the crew contacted Air Traffic Control (ATC) to report a problem with the airplane and request a return to the airport. Its crew lost contact with ATC and crashed just minutes after takeoff from Bole International Airport for reasons that have yet to be determined.

Preliminary Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADSB) tracking data have been analyzed by a Clifford Law Offices expert. These data show the airplane became airborne about 08:38:18 local time and climbed about 900 feet above runway level when it suddenly began descending, and then began climbing again before the ADSB data end about three minutes after takeoff.

Airliners typically climb continuously for several thousand feet or more above runway elevation before any form of level-off occurs and this altitude profile is indicative of some problem. More will be revealed when the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) are recovered and data extracted and analyzed by the safety authorities. Of note, the Ethiopian government does not have FDR or CVR readout capabilities so Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who will both be involved in the investigation, will surely be urging the Ethiopians to bring the FDR and CVR to the NTSB recorder labs in Washington, D.C., for readout.

The aircraft involved in Sunday’s crash had reportedly been delivered by Boeing to Ethiopian Airlines in November, 2018. Boeing is based in Chicago, where Clifford Law Offices is located.

Clifford Law has more experience and success than any other law firm in the world in representing families whose members were injured or killed in accidents involving Boeing 737 airplanes.

In October of last year, Lion Air Flight 610, a brand new Boeing 737 Max8 like Ethiopian Flight 302, crashed into the Java Sea killing all 189 people aboard just minutes after takeoff. Following that tragedy, Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued guidance to operators advising the accident airplane suffered a series of sensor and longitudinal control system problems after takeoff that led to the crash, and provided guidance on how to deal with such problems until further notice.

Specifically, on Nov. 7, 2018, the FAA issued Airworthiness Directive (AD) 28-23-51 to owners and operators of Boeing 737-8 and 737-9 airplanes in response to investigative findings on this crash, in which it found that if an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input is received by the flight control system, there is a potential for repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer. This condition, if not addressed, could cause the flight crew to have difficulty controlling the airplane, and lead to excessive nose-down attitude, significant altitude loss and possible impact with terrain.

On Nov. 14, 2018, the FAA posted the following statement on its website:

“The existing FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD) (PDF) identifies existing flight crew procedures to be used in those circumstances. The FAA and Boeing continue to evaluate the need for software and/or other design changes to the aircraft including operating procedures and training as we learn more from the ongoing investigation. The FAA is not doing a safety probe separate from the ongoing Lion Air Accident investigation of which we, the NTSB and Indonesian officials are a part.”

“The preliminary ADSB data for this accident, combined with what we know about the Lion Air Flight 610 crash, make it possible that Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed due to the same basic reason as Lion Air Flight 610 – a single point AOA sensor failure followed by inappropriate nose-down input by the airplane’s automatic flight control system,” said Clifford, founder and senior partner of Clifford Law Offices. “While Boeing and the FAA would like to blame this type of accident on the pilots for not properly implementing emergency procedures fast enough, they are both at fault for unsafe flight control system design and approval of an unsafe flight control system design, respectively,” Clifford said.

Clifford, who has handled numerous major plane crashes throughout the world including several Boeing 737 crashes involving similar faulty control system components and sensors, stated that the FAA simply hasn’t gone far enough or acted quickly enough.

“How many more people have to be killed before this issue is resolved?” Clifford questioned. “The FAA needs to address the AOA system failure processing and response by the airplane, the repair or placement of these AOA sensors, as well as any related design, software and other changes required until the problem is solved.”

“Single point failures such as this are not supposed to have catastrophic consequences such as this on airliners, and the lack of airplane “voting” logic to rule out the faulty AOA sensor as Boeing and other manufacturers have on their other airplane models would have prevented the Lion Air crash and possibly this Ethiopian Flight 302 crash,” Clifford said. “If the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 investigation finds upon review of the FDR and CVR data that a faulty AOA sensor again caused the airplane to automatically make nose-down control inputs that led to this crash, the FAA should immediately ground all 737 Max8 and 9 airplanes until this system behavior is eliminated via design changes.”

Clifford has represented numerous victims and their families of those who were injured or killed in various air crash disasters, including the Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 crash at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport where a faulty Boeing sensor and control system logic caused the crash, similar to Lion Air and possibly this crash. Clifford also represented passengers of the United Airlines Flight 585 that crashed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and US Air Flight 427 that crashed en route to Pittsburgh from Chicago O’Hare International Airport, both involving Boeing 737s that crashed due to rudder control system failures.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 had 147 passengers aboard of 32 different nationalities including eight Americans. Ten flight crew members were aboard as well for a total of 157 souls.

For further information or to speak to Robert A. Clifford or one of the aviation partners at the firm, contact Clifford Law Offices Communications Partner, Pamela Sakowicz Menaker, at 847-721-0909 (cell).

www.CliffordLaw.com

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