Analysis of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 began early Friday morning in Paris, the airline said, beginning a process that could provide clarity around the crash that killed 157 people aboard the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Sunday, and resulted in a nearly world-wide grounding of the aircraft until its safety is confirmed.
Investigators are looking into the MAX 8’s autopilot functions and the training of the pilots who flew the plane, as well as a mechanical part of the control system that alters the up-and-down movement of the nose, an aviation source told ABC News’ Senior Transportation Correspondent David Kerley. The mechanism, called a “jackscrew,” is a threaded rod in the tail section of the plan that affects the plane’s stability.
A jackscrew malfunction was a factor in the cause of another fatal crash in 2000, when an Alaska Airlines plane nosedived into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Los Angeles.
The Ethiopian delegation, led by the chief investigator of the country’s accident investigation bureau, has arrived in the French Safety Investigation (BEA) facilities and the investigation process has started in Paris.
— Ethiopian Airlines (@flyethiopian) March 15, 2019
Air traffic controllers said they noticed the Ethiopian Airlines flight pitching up and down hundreds of feet before it crashed, according to a New York Times report Thursday night. The captain called in a panicked voice to ask to return to the airport, but the plane disappeared off the radar just minutes later, the Times reported.
Public data from FlightRadar24 also showed the plane accelerated to high, abnormal speeds, though the reason was unclear.
The new details could help fill out a picture of the plane’s final moments. Data from the “black boxes,” devices that house the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, will provide further guidance for investigators and families of the victims. The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent U.S. agency that investigates transportation accidents and issues widely-respected safety recommendations, also sent three additional investigators to assist in the analysis.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 was involved in another deadly crash in Indonesia in October that killed 189 people.
Key questions surrounding apparent similarities in the two planes’ trajectories, both of which oscillated up and down before crashing within minutes of take-off, have caused about 40 countries to ground the Boeing 737 MAX as a precautionary measure.
“Once they start reading out their recorders they’ll know fairly quickly what this is … is this a repeat of Lion Air or is this something different,” Tom Haueter, a former NTSB investigator and ABC News contributor, told Kerley on “Good Morning America” Friday.
A major question is whether the plane’s autopilot system might have played a role in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, as it seemed to have done in the fatal crash of an Indonesian Lion Air 737 MAX 8 last October. In that crash, it appears the pilots failed to disengage the autopilot when the plane’s nose began pitching up and down, perhaps because they were unaware of how to do so. Some pilots have complained that the information to disengage autopilot was not readily available, and others have raised concerns about the adequacy of the training process.
“After the Lion Air tragedy, we learned that there was equipment on our aircraft that we were not aware of, it wasn’t even in our book,” said American Airlines pilot Dennis Tajer. Tajer, a spokesperson for a pilot’s union called the Allied Pilots Association, met with Boeing in the aftermath of the last crash.
At least 250 flights per day in the U.S. are typically flown on Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, according to Flightradar24. The MAX fleets in the U.S. are operated by American Airlines, Southwest and United. Because of the grounding, it’s estimated at least 43,000 passengers each day will have to be rerouted on different planes.
In an email to some customers early Friday morning, American Airlines apologized for the inconvenience, asked for passengers to be patient and said the airline would work “tirelessly to minimize the impact.”
Boeing stopped delivery of the MAX jet but will continue to build them, with nearly 5,000 planes on order. Some airlines, such as Alaska Airlines, were set to receive the new 737 MAX 8 and 9 in June. Alaska Airlines indicated it expected to get it as planned, but said it was “too early to speculate on future deliveries.”
ABC News’ David Kerley, Jeff Cook, Christine Theodorou and Soo Youn contributed to this report.
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