By Luz Lazo and Luz Lazo Transportation reporter covering Washington’s Metro, buses, Capital Bikeshare and taxis, and the region’s road network Email Bio Follow Michael Laris Michael Laris Transportation reporter Email Bio Follow March 14 at 2:32 PM Two heavily damaged data and voice recorders that hold key information on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 arrived Thursday in a Paris suburb, where an international team of investigators will try to retrieve and analyze intricate details from the Boeing 737’s onboard systems and cockpit conversations.
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Ethiopian investigators delivered the mangled orange flight data recorder to specialists at France’s civil air safety investigation authority, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, or BEA, which has extensive experience analyzing crashes in Europe and around the world. They also carried a cockpit voice recorder.
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Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S.’s independent investigative agency, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, will add their expertise to the investigation involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, which was certified by FAA officials working with the American aviation giant.
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[ ‘My child! My brother!’: As mourners gather at Ethiopian Airlines crash site, an agonizing search for remains ]
The same Boeing model was involved in the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air flight that plunged into the Java Sea in Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crew onboard.
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Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam had said earlier this week that the boxes could go to the United States, but then immediately added they would more likely be sent to Europe in interests of proximity and speed.
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Distraught family members attend a memorial service held for the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crash on March 14, 2019 in Ejere, Ethiopia. All 157 passengers and crew perished after the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 Flight came down six minutes after taking off from Bole Airport. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images) The boxes were initially offered to Germany, but the country’s aircraft investigators declined to analyze them, saying they came from a new type of plane and a new type of software.
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Ethiopia’s decision to then offer them to France came just after the visit of President Emmanuel Macron, who left Ethiopia on Tuesday
Some experts have suggested that it was prudent to send the devices to Europe for examination given that the plane was built by a U.S. manufacturer
After a major airline disaster such as the one Sunday,which killed 157, investigators rush to recover the devices. They are required on all airlines around the world and are built to withstand fire, heavy impact and intense water pressure. When planes go down in the ocean, a pinger attached to the black box sends a signal that sounds like a grandfather clock ticking for about 30 days before its battery dies
Typically, experts say, it takes almost a month to provide a comprehensive analysis of a flight data recorder
[ FAA’s emergency order grounding Boeing jets came after the agency identified similarities between crashes in Ethiopia, Indonesia ]
The Ethiopian Airlines devices were discovered quickly after the crash, leading some U.S. officials to hope the insights within them would help determine whether American authorities should ground the 737 MAX jets. While Ethiopian investigators have the ability to download information from black boxes, they lacked the tools to do so in this case given the extensive damage, according to the FAA
It is unclear why it took days for the devices to be given to international investigators with suitable equipment and experience
The NTSB said it had dispatched a team of three to France to assist with downloading and analysis. The agency had already sent four investigators to Ethiopia. An NTSB spokesman said declined to say if the investigators were already on the ground, nor would he comment on whether the Americans had seen and assessed the condition of the black boxes
U.S. officials say Ethiopian authorities are taking the lead in the investigation, per international protocol, but U.S. experts have been cooperating with their counterparts from the onset
Because the 737 Max 8 was built in the U.S., the NTSB can send an accredited representative to the investigation. The U.S. delegation of experts also includes technical advisers from FAA, Boeing and GE/Safran, the manufacturer of the engines
“This is not our investigation. This is an Ethiopian investigation,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said. “We will be helping to download and analyze the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.”
The data in the black boxes could help investigators determine if Sunday’s crash is related to an automated feature on the aircraft, hundreds of which were flown around the world until countries, led by China, began barring them from flying in their airspace Monday
[ Two plane crashes in five months: What the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights have in common ]
FAA officials said Wednesday that new satellite tracking data and new physical evidence from the wreckage of the crash in Ethiopia showed similarities to the crash in Indonesia, leading the agency to ground both the 737 Max 8 and the Max 9, another aircraft in the series. The U.S. decision came after much of the world had already grounded the plane
Some experts have pointed to parallels between the two crashes. Both involved relatively new 737 Max 8s. Both crashed shortly after takeoff. The two jets also struggled to gain altitude and appeared to ascend and descend several times before crashing
But they say it is too early to determine whether the same malfunctioning sensor, coupled with an automated response from the aircraft’s software that stymied the pilots’ ability to control the Lion Air flight, contributed to the downing of the Ethiopian Airlines plane. Investigators have not determined a final cause of the Lion Air crash
In Ethiopia, the investigation continued Thursday
The NTSB investigators dispatched to France will work in coordination with those on the ground in Addis Ababa, the agency said
The NTSB team is smaller than a typical go-team that would be sent to a crash on U.S. soil, which could consist of a dozen to 25 people
Black boxes have helped investigators examine many crashes and have led to significant improvements in airplane safety and pilot training. Some U.S. airlines began to use flight data recorders in the late 1950s and the recorders quickly caught on in other countries
This is a developing story.
Paul Schemm contributed to this report from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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