US plane maker Boeing is facing pressure to guarantee the safety of its 737 Max 8 aircraft after the Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed nearly 160 people, including seven Britons.
All Chinese airlines were ordered to temporarily ground their Max 8 planes by the country’s aviation watchdog today, while a Caribbean operator suspended operations with both of its new planes.
In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was “closely monitoring developments” following the incident, which comes months after a crash involving the same kind of plane that left 189 people dead.
The European Aviation Safety Agency is yet to comment.
Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said on Sunday that the firm is providing “technical assistance” to Ethiopian government and regulatory authorities in their investigation.
Ethiopian Airlines also grounded its remaining Max 8 aircraft, although the cause of the crash was yet to be determined.
Its chief executive, Tewolde Gebremariam, said the operator was “one of the safest” in the world, adding: “At this stage we cannot rule out anything.”
Ethiopian Airlines said it had contacted the families of all victims, who came from 35 nations.
One Irish victim was named as Michael Ryan, a married father-of-two based in Rome with the UN’s World Food Programme, which distributes rations to people in need.
Known as Mick and formerly from Lahinch in Co Clare, Mr Ryan was celebrated for “doing life-changing work in Africa” by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
As many as 19 UN workers were feared to have been killed in the crash, the number being so high because of its environmental forum due to start today.
Aid workers, doctors and a prominent football official were also believed to be among the dead.
Many of the passengers were from Kenya, but others were said to be from the UK, Italy, France, the US, Canada, Ethiopia, Egypt, Germany, Slovakia, India and China.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China issued a notice on today at 9am local time (1am Irish Time) ordering domestic airlines to suspend the commercial operation of the Boeing 737 Max 8 before 6pm.
Meanwhile, Cayman Airways president Fabian Whorms said both of the airline’s new Max 8s will not fly from today.
While the cause is not yet known, the crash shared similarities with last year’s Lion Air jet plunging into the Java Sea, killing 189. That also involved a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashing minutes after takeoff.
Indonesia’s national transport safety agency has said it is ready to assist Ethiopian authorities with their probe.
The carrier's director of flight operations Tomas Hesthammer said: "Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by this tragic accident.
"All of our Boeing 737 Max aircraft are operating as normal.
"We are in close dialogue with Boeing and follow their and the aviation authorities' instructions and recommendations.
"Our passengers' safety is and will always be our top priority."
On Sunday, visibility was clear but air traffic monitor Flightradar24 said “vertical speed was unstable after take off”.
The pilot had sent out a distress call and was given the all clear to return, according to the airline’s chief executive Mr Gebremariam.
Senior captain Yared Getachew had a “commendable performance” having completed more than 8,000 hours in the air, the airline said.
The plane had flown from Johannesburg to the Ethiopian capital earlier on Sunday morning, and had undergone a “rigorous” testing on February 4, a statement continued.
An eyewitness told the BBC there was an intense fire when the plane crashed.
“The blast and the fire were so strong that we couldn’t get near it,” he said. “Everything is burnt down.”
- Press Association