The Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed March 10 began experiencing harrowing problems within a minute of takeoff from Addis Ababa, entering into dangerous flight patterns that were similar to those experienced by the Lion Air flight that crashed five months earlier in Indonesia.
Citing information shared by an unidentified source involved in the investigation, the New York Times reported that upon takeoff, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 accelerated to dangerous speeds before oscillating up and down by hundreds of feet.
The motions of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft suggest its autopilot system repeatedly entered anti-stall maneuvers that the pilots couldn’t correct. That’s what authorities believe may have happened to Lion Air flight 610, also a brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8, which crashed off the coast of Indonesia Oct. 29. Three additional Lion Air flights in the same aircraft experienced similar problems but were able to land safely.
Investigators involved in the Lion Air crash traced the problem to a sensor that feeds “angle-of-attack” data to the aircraft’s autopilot system. Angle-of-attack data measures the angle between the wing and the airflow. If the angle increases beyond a certain point, the lift produced by the wings isn’t enough to keep the aircraft in the air, so autopilot sends the plane into a nose dive to get lift under the wings.
It could be that faulty sensors fed erroneous data to the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing, sending the plane into repeated nosedives and accelerating abnormally in anti-stall maneuvers when none were needed.
Investigators are also looking into why pilots of both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines jets could not override the “flight control” problem that captain Yared Getachew, a highly experienced aviator, reported to ground control.
The New York Times sources said pilot Getachew’s report of the problems was initially clam, but after three minutes he requested permission to return to Addis Ababa “in a panicky voice.”
Approximately two minutes later the Ethiopian Airlines jet hit the ground, killing all 157 people aboard.