, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 12 – A Greek executive of an international solid waste management lobby group has recounted how he missed Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 to Nairobi that crashed on Sunday killing all 157 people on board.
Antonis Mavropoulos, the President of International Solid Waste Association, arrived at the departure gate two minutes late after he failed to trace a guide sent to pick him from the plane he was arriving on, before connecting to Nairobi.
“I came out first and very quickly from the plane and the connection ambassador who came to receive me didn’t find me,” Mavropoulos who was travelling to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly which kicked off on Monday in Nairobi narrated.
Pleas by Mavropoulos to have the gate reopened for him to board the plane were declined, according to an online post he published later on Sunday, with the airline offering to book him for the next flight to Nairobi scheduled for 11.20am.
“They apologized for the inconvenience and transferred me to a nice lounge for the waiting,” he recalled.
Mavropoulos was however stopped from boarding the next scheduled flight to Nairobi after security officials at the airport learnt the proceeding flight had disappeared from radar.
Security agencies were keen on questioning him being the only passenger at the time they knew to have been booked on the ill-fated flight but never boarded.
“At 10:50 am, as we joined the next flight, two security officers informed me that for security reasons that a senior officer will explain to me, they will not allow my boarding. In my intense protests they left no margin of discussion and led me to their superior, to the airport police department,” Mavropoulos wrote.
“He told me gently not to protest and say thank you to God, because I am the only passenger who did not enter the flight ET 302 which is missing. And that this was why they can’t let me go, until they determine who I am, because I didn’t get on the flight…”
Mavropoulos later learnt ET302 had crashed six minutes after takeoff killing all 157 persons on board including eight crew members.
“I realized that I must immediately contact my own people and tell them that I was not in and that for two small random circumstances I lost the flight… I realized how lucky I stood,” Mavropoulos who was later allowed by the authorities to travel to Nairobi described the moment he learnt of the plane crash.
Investigations into the cause of the Sunday crash were boosted on Monday after teams working at the site of the plane crash recovered flight data and cockpit voice recorders that will be crucial in the investigation.
Kenya which reported the highest fatalities in the crash, 32 citizens, has also offered to help in the investigations.
The aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, in a statement issued on Monday assured of the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8 which has since been grounded by several airlines including Ethiopian Airlines following the Sunday accident.
“We’ve grounded all Boeing 737-8 Max planes which Ethiopian Airlines was operating and which was involved in the accident yesterday as a precaution safety measure. This doesn’t mean that the incident was related to any defects on this specific fleet,” Ethiopian Airlines Manager in Charge of Operations in Kenya, Yilma Goshu Gobena, said.
The Boeing statement defended enhanced software on the Boeing 737 Max 8 as safe saying more was being done to make it even safer.
“For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer. This includes updates to the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training,” the manufacturer said.
“The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority,” Boeing further stated.
Being the second major incident in just two months after a similar crash of a Lion Air flight departing from Jakarta in October 2018 13 minutes after takeoff, questions have been rife on the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8’s anti-stall mechanism which initiates a stabilization commands based on readings it gets from sensors to prevent stalling.
Responding to the concerns on Tuesday, Boeing said it already has a manual available to crew outlining how to override MCAS in case it is activated by erroneous data.
“Boeing’s 737 MAX Flight Crew Operations Manual (FCOM) already outlines an existing procedure to safely handle the unlikely event of erroneous data coming from an angle of attack (AOA) sensor. The pilot will always be able to override the flight control law using electric trim or manual trim,” the aircraft manufactures said.
According to Boeing, the MCAS command could also be controlled through existing runaway stabilizer procedure which it reinforced in an Operations Manuel Bulletin it issued on November 6, 2018.
The firm said it was working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on a further software enhancement incorporating feedback received from clients, an update the company said “will be deployed across the 737 Max fleet in coming weeks.”
According to Boeing, the new software upgrade will be mandated with FAA’s Airworthiness Directive (AD) no later than April.