Ethiopian Airlines chief pilot, Captain Desta Zeru, is calling on Lebanese authorities
to collaborate for a rerun of an investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET-409 that plunged into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after taking off killing all 90 on board on January 25, 2010.
Ethiopian Airlines strongly rejected on Tuesday a final report by the Lebanese Ministry of Public Works and Transport which said the pilots committed “gross errors” that resulted in the fatal accident of ET-409.
Ethiopian said crucial evidence was ignored, tampered with and subtly excluded leading the official investigation to reach the predetermined conclusion of blaming the pilots. “We are not really surprised that the investigation process in the last couple of years was used only to justify the speculation made publicly by the Lebanese Government even before the beginning of the investigation process,” Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told journalists on Tuesday.
Ethiopian chief pilot Captain Desta Zeru, vice president of fight operations, says if there is willingness in the Lebanese side, it is not too late to find out the truth about the accident.
“It is my personal opinion if the Lebanese cooperate, we can still pull out the wreckage and include all the missing parts in the puzzle and rerun the simulation and then analyze and debate professionally,” said Captain Desta an exclusive with Capital.
Captain Desta says if the Lebanese officials are willing to consider crucial piece of evidence they have sidelined including evaluating over 90 percent of the wreckage still unaccounted for; it will lead to “the most probable cause of the accident.” “This will be in the safety and interest of the public and aviation,” added Captain Desta.
According to Captain Desta who flew the Boeing made B-787 Dreamliner aircraft when the aircraft made its first ever African debut arriving in Addis Ababa last December, all the evidence proves beyond a doubt that the pilots of ET-409 had nothing to do with its demise.
“The pattern of the airplane, the pilots’ reaction, and the data from the plane including from the voice recorders and knowing the experience level of the pilots, it is very difficult to believe that this accident was caused due to the pilot’s error, ” said Captain Desta in a Capital interview.
What really went wrong on ET-409?
Though now excluded from consideration into the final report, the Lebanese army first said the plane exploded in midair.
“Air Traffic Controllers and other airlines’ pilots have witnessed a ball of fire on the aircraft in the air. All recordings of the Digital Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder stopped at 1300 feet and the aircraft disappeared from radar screen at the same time. The last cockpit voice recording was also a loud noise which sounds like an explosion,” Captain Desta said on Tuesday in a press conference called by the airlines.
Shortly after the accident, international media broadcasts including Lebanese broadcasters quoted eye witnesses including Lebanese coast guards consistently accounting for seeing a ball of fire on the airplane before it plunged into the sea.
“All these facts clearly indicate that the aircraft disintegrated in the air due to explosion, which could have been caused by a shoot-down, sabotage, or lightening strike,” said Captain Desta.
Despite Lebanese officials prematurely ruling out sabotage, independent news organizations in Lebanon reported that the accident was a result of sabotage.
A few days after the accident, while the daily al-Liwaa reported that the crash is likely a “deliberate attack”, OTV, which is reputed to have strong ties with Hizbullah, the militant Shia group based in Lebanon, cited official circles as saying that the Ethiopian plane was likely hit by a rocket. Al-Liwaa reportedly based its hypothesis on Hizbullah’s heightened concern about the catastrophe and the fact that a Hizbullah delegation was supposed to be on the plane. It said the trip was cancelled at the last minute.
Al-Liwaa also pointed to Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s keenness to “personally” attend the funeral of one of the plane victims identified as Hasan Tajeddine in the southern town of Hanaway. It was said Tajeddine had close ties with Hizbullah.
Earlier this month further advancing speculation and the assessment of some experts’ that ET-409 was brought down by sabotage, officials in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania announced that they have uncovered an Israeli spy agency Mossad – network operating in the country and it is responsible for the accident.
According to the authorities in Mauritania, a number of Arab nationals had been recruited to the spy network that was involved in the blowing up of an Ethiopian airplane in Lebanon, in which a Hizbullah target was on board. The alleged network is also said responsible for the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
Ethiopian officials at Tuesday’s press conference say though such reports are “consistent and relevant” with the accident reports, they have not advanced their investigation to collect enough evidence to hold any group responsible.
Further probe and weighing legal options have not been ruled out, the official said in response to questions about reported sabotages.
What is next?
So far measures announced by Ethiopian authorities include rejecting the final report. To this effect the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority has appended its comments to the final report and expressed its regrets and disagreement both in the investigation process and the final report.
Ethiopian CEO Tewolde however said they don’t have any intention to suspend the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) with Lebanon.
Tewolde said during the last two years after the accident, despite lack of cooperation in the ET-409 probe authorities there extended all the necessary support for the airlines’ flights to not be interrupted. The CEO added that the route remains one of the good markets for the airlines and the number of passengers has continued to grow.
“Our brothers and sisters in Lebanon have given us the vote of confidence to our safety reputation. They continue to fly Ethiopian,” said the CEO downplaying calls to offload Beirut and confirming Ethiopian will continue to fly there.
Statistics suggests that Ethiopian has not suffered a drop in passenger numbers as a result of the tragic accident of ET-409.
Despite an immediate drop in numbers the day after the crash back in January, 2010, they soon recovered to normal.
The first day after the accident, January 26 showed a 28.21 percent increase in traffic compared to the same period last year; official documents Capital obtained demonstrate. January 27 passenger traffic showed a downturn in growth from the previous day as the news of the crash dominated international media, with year on year growth down to 16.8 percent.
Ethiopian traffic recovered the next day, January 28, by registering 23.85 percent increase compared to the year before. It then averaged at just over 22 percent for the rest of the week.
By the first week of February, the start of the second week after the accident, figures for year on year growth were back to pre-crash levels. The national flag carrier on February 1 enjoyed a 27.65 percent increase compared to the previous year while the next day saw a growth of nearly 30 percent, even higher than the January 26 performance.