Beirut aircraft accident report to be released on January 25

Lebanese authorities refuse to provide required information
“The Lebanese authorities have been hiding relevant information requested by the investigation team and Ethiopian Airlines and this has hampered the investigation process,” sources said.

– Investigation team to visit Addis Ababa

– Lebanese authorities refuse to provide required information

By Kaleyesus Bekele, Reporter

The investigation report on the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft that crashed near Beirut in January 2010 is to be released on January 25, on the first anniversary of the accident.

Reliable sources told The Reporter that the investigation team comprising ten members will be arriving in Addis Ababa on January 25 and the Lebanese Urban Works and Transport Minister will release the interim report of the accident the following day.

Though the International Civil Aviation Organization Annex 30 stipulates that first draft report of any aircraft accident should be released within 30 days, the Lebanese authorities withheld the report for almost a year now. “The investigation team submitted the report to them within the deadline. However, they did not release it for reason we do not know,” sources told The Reporter. “The Lebanese authorities have been hiding relevant information requested by the investigation team and Ethiopian Airlines and this has hampered the investigation process,” sources said.

Tewolde Gebremariam, the new CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, declined to comment on the issue saying the management of the airline abides by the rules and regulations of ICAO.

The accident investigation team will be arriving in Addis Ababa to continue the investigation process. As part of the investigation process the team, comprising three Americans (from Boeing and the US National Transport Board), three Lebanese, two Ethiopians and two French nationals will visit the headquarters of Ethiopian Airlines and the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. The team will see the maintenance history of the aircraft and the maintenance facility of the airline which is described as one of the finest in Africa by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC). The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has established a technical committee that will organize the investigation team’s visit.

Sources said the investigation team has been working on four core points that could give a lead to the cause of the accident – sabotage, technical ( failure with the aircraft), human factor (pilot error) and external factor (the aircraft has been hit by external matter). Sources close to the investigation process said the Lebanese authorities have been covering up information while the team was working on sabotage and external factor. On the other hand, executives of Boeing are defending the jetliner.

Sources said the Lebanese authorities refused to present recorded materials by the CCTV at the Beirut Raffik Hariri International Airport, profiles of passengers on board the ill-fated ET Flight 409, airport security information, including recorded materials by the traffic control of the airport, and x-rays of luggage. They also did not submit information related to the Etihad Airways Airbus A319 Flight EX533 that was misguided by the airport’s traffic control to the airport and came in close proximity to ET409. The Etihad’s aircraft in-bound from Abu Dhabi International Airport intercepted ET409. The Captain of the A319 aircraft saw what happened to the Ethiopian jetliner. However, the Lebanese authorities did not allow representatives of Ethiopian and CAA to interview the cockpit crew of the EX533. They have also hidden the whereabouts of another eyewitness (one of the traffic controllers) who was on duty at the tower when the Ethiopian aircraft turned into a ball of fire and plunged into the Mediterranean Sea. “Their effort to hide information has made us more suspicious,” a source close to the investigation process said. “We suspect that the aircraft was bombed or hit by a rocket,” he added.

Sources said the Lebanese authorities adamantly refuse to avail information that are crucial to the investigation process. Ethiopian government officials, executives of Ethiopian Airlines and CAA are infuriated by the Lebanese authorities, particularly the Ministry of Urban Works and Transport.

According to another source, the investigation process has four phases – Data collection, analysis, conclusion and recommendation. The status of the investigation process on ET409 accident is on data collection. “Data collection is just the first phase that has been finalized. The data has not been yet analyzed. So it is not appropriate for anyone to arrive at a conclusion on the cause of the accident,” these sources said.

While this was the case, Lebanese authorities have been leaking erroneous information to the Lebanese media.  Last Monday the Lebanese TV, LBC,  quoting anonymous sources reported that the investigation so far revealed that the crash occurred because of poor judgment by the management of Ethiopian Airlines in choosing the crew, especially since the captain and the copilot were exhausted as a result of working for more than a hundred flight hours during that month. The report claims that the captain and the copilot did not have enough experience in flying such a plane. Records show that Captain Habtamu Benti, commander of the ET409, had a cumulative of more than 8000 flight hours. “This is a complete cover up. We had seen part of the wreckage of the aircraft and remains of the victims and we could tell what made the aircraft to blow up but the ICAO convention does not allow us to do that,” said a source.

The management of Ethiopian refuted the media report released by LBC, a popular TV station in the Middle East. In a statement issue on Tuesday Ethiopian said there had been repeated attempts by some Lebanese media to sway the public opinion by publishing unfounded and speculative information. “As part of this continued and rather concerted effort to mislead the public at large, once again, “Ya Libanon”, the Lebanese newspaper, on its January 3 issue, published another groundless information, quoting LBC as a source. The report contemplates that the accident was caused due to pilot exhaustion and inexperience,” Ethiopian said.

“It is disheartening to see such unsubstantiated reports issued in utter disregard to the pain and suffering of the families of the deceased while the investigation is still under way. Ethiopian firmly maintains its position not to comment on the cause of the accident prior to the completion and official release of the results of the investigation and has all the confidence that the investigation team will take all the factors into account when determining the final causes of the accident. Meanwhile, Ethiopian continues to work with authorities to assure that the highest safety standards are maintained at all times. Ethiopian condemns the international effort by Lebanese media to delude the public by disseminating baseless information.”

Our sources have also refuted the allegation made by the Lebanese media. “One, you can not make conclusions before the analysis is made. It is only the first phase, data collection, that is finalized. So how does the report conclude the cause of the accident at this stage? Before analyzing the data, the team can not make conclusions. The pilot may not have long flight hours on that particular aircraft but they are highly qualified. Certainly, they did not blow up the aircraft,” sources said. “Fifty-two Lebanese nationals died in the accident and the Lebanese public is nagging the government, demanding explanation on the cause of the accident. The government is trying to ease the public anger by using Ethiopian Airlines and its pilot as scapegoats. But they cannot delude the Lebanese public because the public knows what happened to their popular leader, Raffik Harriri,” they concluded.

The Boeing 737-800 jetlinner that took off from the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport was destroyed when it crashed into the Mediterranean sea, some 3.5 km offshore from the coastal village of Naameh, south of Beirut. Beirut authorities told the international media that after flying for two minutes under a heavy rain and thunderstorm being guided by the flight control, the plane lost contact with the control tower. Ninety people on board the plane – 82 passengers and eight Ethiopian crew members – perished in the accident. Out of the total number of passengers 23 were Ethiopians, 52 Lebanese, 1 Turkish, 1 French, 2 British, 1 Russian, 1 Syrian, 1 Iraqi nationals.