Ethiopia, Apr 5 (AP/UNB) — A doomed Ethiopian Airlines jet suffered from faulty readings by a key sensor, and pilots followed Boeing's recommended procedures when the plane started to nose dive but could not avoid crashing, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the Ethiopian government.
The findings draw the strongest link yet between the March 10 crash in Ethiopia and an October crash off the coast of Indonesia, which both involved Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliners. All 346 people on the two planes were killed.
Both planes had an automated system that pushed the nose down when sensor readings detected the danger of an aerodynamic stall, and it now appears that sensors malfunctioned on both planes.
Boeing acknowledged that the sensor malfunctioned and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said Thursday a new software update would prevent future incidents. "It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk," Muilenburg said in a video statement. "We own it, and we know how to do it."
Thursday's preliminary report, based on flight data and cockpit voice recorders on the Ethiopian Airlines jetliner, showed that the faulty sensor touched off a series of events that caused the pilots to lose control of the plane. The report from Ethiopia's Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau said the sensor problems began about a minute after the plane was cleared for takeoff.
It said air speed and altitude values on the left side of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max conflicted with data from the right sensor, causing flight control problems. Eventually the pilots couldn't keep the plane from plummeting to the ground, killing all 157 people on board.
The problems are similar to those reported on the Indonesian Lion Air flight that crashed last October. Investigators found that software on that plane took readings from the sensor and pointed the nose down. Thursday's revelations raise questions about repeated assertions by Boeing and U.S. regulators that pilots could regain control in some emergencies by following steps that include turning off an anti-stall system designed specifically for the Max, known by its acronym, MCAS.
The Max has been grounded worldwide pending a software fix that Boeing is rolling out, which still needs to be approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.
In a statement, Boeing said that to make sure unintended activation of the MCAS system doesn't happen again, it is developing software and "associated comprehensive pilot training" for the Max. The software update, Boeing said, adds layers of protection and will stop erroneous data from activating the system.
Ethiopian investigators did not specifically mention the MCAS, but recommended that Boeing review "the aircraft flight-control system related to the flight controllability." They also recommended that aviation officials verify that issues have been adequately addressed before allowing the planes to fly again.
At a news conference, Ethiopia's Minister of Transport Dagmawit Moges said the Ethiopian Airlines crew "performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft."
However, it wasn't clear whether the Ethiopian pilots followed Boeing's recommendations to the letter.
The pilots initially followed Boeing's emergency steps by disconnecting the MCAS system by switching off power to a stabilizer on the tail, the report said. But they turned the system back on 32 seconds before hitting the ground and tried unsuccessfully to use it to point the nose up. Boeing's procedures instruct pilots to leave the MCAS disconnected and continue flying manually for the rest of the flight.
The report said multiple alarms went off as the pilots struggled to control the plane, indicating an even more complex situation than in the Lion Air crash, said William Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. "It's similar in a lot of ways but perhaps more extreme," he said. "It seems likely they've got more things going on at once in a shorter time period."
The two pilots had just 159 hours of combined flying time on the Boeing 737 Max, a new aircraft that went into service in 2017. The 29-year-old captain had more than 8,000 flight hours overall, including more than 1,400 on older 737s, the report said.
The 25-year-old co-pilot had only 361 total flight hours — not enough to be hired as a pilot at a U.S. airline. He flew 207 of those hours on 737s, including 56 hours on Max jets.
Family members of crash victims said they were unsettled by the report's findings.
"Today's preliminary report suggests Boeing could have done better in notifying the problem with the aircraft system early on," said Konjit Shafi, whose younger brother, Sintayehu Shafi, died in the crash. "This is causing us a great deal of pain. It is so sad to learn that our loved ones would have been spared if this problem was detected on time."
Meanwhile, the family of a 24-year-old American woman killed in the crash sued Boeing on Thursday. The complaint, which also names Ethiopian Airlines and parts maker Rosemount Aerospace as defendants, alleged negligence and civil conspiracy among other charges.
"Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 MAX8 to market" and "actively concealed the nature of the automated system defects," the lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Samya Stumo alleged. Stumo is a great grand-niece of consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Nader called on consumers to boycott the MAX 8 and blasted the FAA for delegating so much responsibility in certifying the plane was safe to Boeing.
"Those planes should never fly again," Nader said. "If we don't end the cozy relationship between the patsy FAA ... and the Boeing Company, 5,000 of these fatally flawed planes will be in the air all over the world with millions of passengers."
Boeing is the focus of investigations by the U.S. Justice Department, the Transportation Department's inspector general and congressional committees. Investigations are also looking at the role of the FAA, which certified the Max in 2017, and declined to ground it after the first deadly crash in October. The agency was also reluctant to ground the planes after the Ethiopian Airlines crash and was among the last agencies to do so.
The FAA, which must certify the 737 Max is safe before it can go back into the air, said in a statement that the investigation is still in its early stages.
"As we learn more about the accident and findings become available, we will take appropriate action," the agency said.
Afghanistan, Apr 5 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan official says at least seven people have been killed as heavy rains and flooding swept through the country's western Herat province.
Heavy snowfall across Afghanistan this winter had cut off many areas, raising fears of severe floods in the spring. So far this year, 63 people have died as heavy rains and flooding swept away their homes.
Said Hamid Mubarez, the federal disaster and humanitarian director in Herat, says the flash floods on Thursday evening swept away eight people riding in two cars in the district of Karukh. Seven died while one survivor was injured.
In March, seven people, including five children, died elsewhere in Herat as a result of flooding. Hundreds of homes have been damaged and hundreds of cattle killed.
New York, April 5 (AP/UNB) — Amazon said Thursday that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has finalized his divorce with wife MacKenzie, who will end up with a stake in the online shopping giant worth more than $35 billion.
In a tweet, MacKenzie Bezos said she is giving Jeff Bezos all her interest in The Washington Post, the newspaper that he bought in 2013, and Blue Origin, the space exploration company he founded.
"I'm grateful for her support and for her kindness in this process," Jeff Bezos said in a tweet Thursday. "And am very much looking forward to our new relationship as friends and co-parents."
The Bezoses, who have four children, first announced they were divorcing in January, just before the National Enquirer published a story that said Jeff Bezos was having an affair with a former TV host. He later accused the tabloid's publisher of threatening to publish explicit photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the Enquirer obtained private messages between himself and his lover.
When the divorce is complete, which is expected to happen in about 90 days, MacKenzie Bezos will have a 4% stake in Amazon. Jeff Bezos, one of the world's richest people, will have a 12% stake in the company, valued at more than $108 billion on Thursday.
He'll be Amazon's largest shareholder, and he'll also keep voting control of MacKenzie Bezos's shares, according to a filling with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The divorce ends a 25-year marriage that played a role in creating one of the world's most valuable companies.
The Bezoses met in New York in the early 1990s while working at a hedge fund. They married just six months after they began dating, Jeff Bezos has said.
Not long after that, he quit his job to start an online bookstore and the Bezoses took a cross-country road trip to Seattle, which was chosen for its high number of technology workers. While his wife did the driving, Jeff Bezos wrote a business plan. By 1995, Amazon was operating out of a garage, with MacKenzie Bezos helping out.
Amazon has grown way beyond those humble beginnings. It now produces movies, runs the Whole Foods grocery chain and has become the leader in voice-activated speakers. The company has become so large that it plans to build a second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
MacKenzie Bezos, a novelist, said in a tweet Thursday that she was "excited" about her future plans, but didn't say what they were.
"Grateful for the past as I look forward to what comes next," she said in the tweet.
Quito, April 5 (AP/UNB) — A senior Ecuadorian official said no decision has been made to expel Julian Assange from the country's London embassy despite tweets from Wikileaks that sources had told it he could be kicked out within "hours to days."
A small group of protesters and supporters of Wikileaks' founder gathered Thursday outside the embassy in London where Assange has been holed up since August 2012. He has feared extradition to the U.S. since WikiLeaks published thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables.
Earlier, Wikileaks tweeted: "BREAKING: A high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told @WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within "hours to days" using the #INAPapers offshore scandal as a pretext--and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest."
Another tweet said it had received a secondary confirmation from another high-level source.
Ecuador's foreign ministry released a statement saying it "doesn't comment on rumors, theories or conjectures that don't have any documented backing."
Later, a top official said while Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno was angered by the apparent hacking of his personal communications, he denied WikiLeaks' claim and said no decision had been taken to expel Assange from the Embassy. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter.
On Tuesday, Moreno blamed WikiLeaks for recent allegations of offshore corruption that in appeared in local media outlets and the publication of family photos to social media.
Moreno accused WikiLeaks of intercepting phone calls and private conversations as well as "photos of my bedroom, what I eat, and how my wife and daughters and friends dance."
Moreno provided no evidence, but the speech reflected ongoing tension between Assange and his hosts at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
WikiLeaks in a statement called Moreno's charges "completely bogus," saying it reported on the accusations of corruption against the president only after Ecuador's legislature investigated the issue.
Assange's defense team suggested on Twitter that Moreno was trying to use the scandal to pressure the WikiLeaks founder.
Christchurch, April 5 (AP/UNB) — A New Zealand judge on Friday ordered that the man accused of killing 50 people at two Christchurch mosques undergo two mental health assessments to determine if he's fit to stand trial.
High Court judge Cameron Mander made the order during a hearing in which 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security Paremoremo prison in Auckland.
Tarrant was wearing handcuffs and a gray-colored sweater when he appeared on a large screen inside the Christchurch courtroom, which was packed with family members and victims of the shooting, some in wheelchairs and hospital gowns and still recovering from gunshot wounds.
Tarrant had stubble and close-cropped hair. He showed no emotion during the hearing. At times he looked around the room or cocked his head, seemingly to better hear what was being said. The judge explained that from his end, Tarrant could see the judge and lawyers but not those in the public gallery.
Tarrant spoke only once to confirm to the judge he was seated, although his voice didn't come through because the sound was muted. It wasn't immediately clear if his link had been deliberately or inadvertently muted.
Mander said nothing should be read into his order for the mental health assessments, as it was a normal step in such a case. Lawyers said it could take two or three months to complete.
The courtroom was filled with more than two dozen reporters and about 60 members of the public. A court registrar greeted people in Arabic and English as the hearing got underway. Some of those watching got emotional and wept.
The judge said Tarrant was charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder. Police initially filed a single, representative murder charge before filing the additional charges this week.
In the March 15 attacks, 42 people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven were killed at the Linwood mosque and one more person died later.
The day after the attacks, Tarrant dismissed an appointed lawyer, saying he wanted to represent himself. But he has now hired two Auckland lawyers to represent him, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson. The next court hearing was scheduled for June 14, and the mental health findings would determine whether he is required to enter a plea then.
Outside the courtroom, Yama Nabi, whose father died in the attacks, said he felt helpless watching.
"We just have to sit in the court and listen," Nabi said. "What can we do? We can't do nothing. Just leave it to the justice of New Zealand and the prime minister."
Tofazzal Alam, 25, said he was worshipping at the Linwood mosque when the gunman attacked. He felt it was important to attend the hearing because so many of his friends were killed.
Alam said he felt upset seeing Tarrant.
"It seems he don't care what has been done. He has no emotion. He looks all right," Alam said. "I feel sorry. Sorry for myself. Sorry for my friends who have been killed. And for him."