Officials say crashed Ethiopian plane didn't follow suggested tower directions

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lebanon's transportation minster said that the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on Monday didn't follow the directions suggested by the air traffic control tower after departing from Beirut in a thunderstorm. He said that the aircraft turned opposite the heading indicated by controllers.

All ninety people aboard Flight ET409, which was headed to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, were feared dead. The jet reportedly went down in fire at around 02.30 local time, disappearing from radar screens after leaving the airport.

"They asked him to correct his path but he did a very fast and strange turn before disappearing completely from the radar," commented Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi. He added: "Nobody is saying the pilot is to blame for not heeding orders. There could have been many reasons for what happened. [...] Only the black box can tell."

Defence Minister Elias Murr also commented that the plane didn't follow instructions upon takeoff. "A command tower recording shows the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction. We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot's control."

Ethiopian Airlines' CEO, Girma Wake, however, countered Aridi's comments, saying that it is too soon to draw any conclusions. "Rushing remarks, I don't think that helps anybody," he said in the Ethiopian capital.

Lebanese officials, meanwhile, have ruled out foul play as being the cause of the aircraft's crashing. The Associated Press quoted Ethiopian Airlines as saying that the pilot in control of the downed plane had twenty years of experience, although it did not disclose his name.

According to an unnamed aviation analyst, Lebanon controllers were directing the Ethiopian flight for the first two to three minutes of the flight due to the thunderstorms, and noted that this was standard procedure during inclement weather.

US-based airline pilot Patrick Smith remarked that the plane could have crashed for many reasons. "Had the plane encountered extreme turbulence, or had it suffered a powerful lightning strike that knocked out instruments while penetrating strong turbulence, then structural failure or loss of control, followed by an in-flight breakup, are possible causes."