HEJERE, Ethiopia—Britain, France, and Germany on March 12 joined a rapidly growing number of countries that have grounded a new Boeing plane involved in the Ethiopian Airlines disaster or turning it back from their airspace, while investigators in Ethiopia looked for parallels with a similar crash just five months ago.
Pressure grew on the United States to take action over the Boeing 737 Max 8 as Asian, Middle Eastern, and then European nations and carriers gave in to concerns. Some cited customers frightened by the sight of the March 10 crash in clear weather that killed all 157 people on board.
Ethiopian Airlines had issued no new updates on the crash as of nightfall as 35 countries that lost citizens waited for answers. Some insights into the disaster and its cause could take months, aviation experts said.
Indicating possible trouble with a reportedly damaged flight data recorder, British regulators said they based their decision on the fact that “we do not currently have sufficient information from the flight data recorder we have.”
Turkish Airlines, Oman, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and South Korean airline Eastar Jet were among the latest to halt use of the Boeing model. Ireland, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, and Singapore suspended all flights into or out of their countries.
Already, some were turning the planes away. 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.
The U.S.-based Boeing, however, has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies. It doesn’t intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers. Its technical team joined American, Israeli, United Arab Emirates, Kenyan, and other aviation experts in the investigation led by Ethiopian authorities.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it expects Boeing would 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 2018.
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 the Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October that killed 189 people.
But others in the United States 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, 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, killing people from 35 countries. It should take five days before 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 plane, 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 debris.
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.
As the global team searched for answers, a woman stood near the crash site and wailed.
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.”
By Elias Meseret and Yidnek Kirubel