The Chinese government has grounded all Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets, after an Ethiopian Airlines plane of the same model crashed shortly after take-off killing all 157 people on board.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement on Monday morning that all domestic Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets would be out of action until 6 p.m. local time, due to its principle of “zero tolerance for safety hazards.”
The move was followed by an announcement from Ethiopian Airlines that the company had already grounded its small fleet of Boeing 737 Max 8 jets as an “extra safety precaution” while investigations into the crash continue.
The Ethiopian Airlines incident was the second time in less than six months that a new Boeing aircraft crashed just minutes into a flight. A Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight went down over the Java Sea in late October, killing all 189 people on board.
“Given in both air crashes, the aircrafts were newly delivered Boeing 737 MAX 8, and both accidents occurred during the take-off, they share certain similarities,” the administration said in a statement.
China has one of the world largest fleets of Boeing 737 MAX 8, operating 97 of the planes, according to Chinese state-run media.
The Chinese authority said it would contact Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration to confirm “flight safety” issues before allowing the planes to fly again.
The Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes are both still under investigation and there is no evidence of a direct link between the cause of the two incidents.
Mary Schiavo, a CNN aviation analyst and the former Inspector General of the US Transportation Department, called the two incidents “highly suspicious.”
“Here we have a brand-new aircraft that’s gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn’t happen,” she said.
State-owned Ethiopian Airlines is one of Africa’s leading aviation groups, and the continent’s largest carrier by number of passengers.
In a statement Sunday, Boeing said it was “deeply saddened” to hear about the loss of life in the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash.
“A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board,” the statement said.
Investigations ongoing after crash
The Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi lost contact with authorities shortly after takeoff at 8.44 a.m. local time, just minutes after it left Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.
Tewolde GebreMariam, Ethiopian Airlines CEO, said at a press conference Sunday that the pilot had reported technical difficulties and had been given clearance to return to the Ethiopian capital.
GebreMariam said a routine maintenance check hadn’t revealed anything before takeoff. The pilot was a senior Ethiopian Airlines employee who had flown more than 8,000 hours and had an “excellent flying record,” he added.
“As it is a fresh incident, we have not been able to determine the cause. As I said, it is a brand new airplane with no technical remarks, flown by a senior pilot and there is no cause that we can attribute at this time,” GebreMariam said.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said on Sunday it would be sending a team of four to assist in the investigation into the crash.
CNN aviation expert Richard Quest said while a “final determination” on the cause of the crash might be years away, information from the flight recorders should be retrieved within a matter of weeks.
The identification of the 157 victims who died in the crash was underway on Monday morning.
Those who lost their lives come from 35 countries, including 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians and eight passengers each from China, Italy and the United States.
The United Nations has announced 19 of their staff members were among the dead, including employees of the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Not all victims have yet been named, but some details have been released.
Slovakian lawmaker Anton Hrnko announced Sunday that both his wife and children, a son and a daughter, had been killed in the crash. “If you had known them, please think of them in a quiet memory,” the statement from Hrnko’s office said.
Kenyan Cedric Asiavugwa, a third-year student at US Georgetown University, was also among the victims, according to a statement from the university Sunday.
“The Georgetown family has lost a stellar student, a great friend to many, and a dedicated champion for social justice across East Africa and the world,” the school said.
The Ethiopian government expressed its “deepest condolences to the families,” in a statement from the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.