By Kirubel Tadesse, Capital
An official investigation report about the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines’ operated flight ET-409 that plunged into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after taking off from Lebanon last year is expected to be released shortly.
Multiple reports coming from Beirut, Lebanon said the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, a cable and satellite television station that has close ties with Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman is planning to announce findings by the Lebanon Ministry of Public Works and Transport which led the investigation of the fatal crash of ET-409.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the aircraft manufacturer Boeing Company, and the French investigative agency hired by the Lebanese Government alongside Ethiopian and Lebanese officials were scheduled to meet here in Addis Ababa on January 24th which would mark the first anniversary of the crash that killed 90 people on board.
The release of report about the investigation however is expected to preempt this scheduled meeting.
What will the report have?
According to reputable international media reports, the soon to be released final report will blame human error by the flight crew of Ethiopian Airlines for ET-409 crash, claiming that the pilots were overworked, had flown in excess of 100 hours during January 2010 [the month of that accident], and were inexperienced in the Boeing 737 aircraft.
The US NTSB and the Boeing Company, both participating in the investigation, have not made public their findings, nor released any updated information.
According to analysts the soon to be public final report bases its findings on data a preliminary report contained.
The preliminary report was dispatched early in February last year to all concerned states and institutions.
The Ethiopian government said it didn’t include crucial information:
“Evidence that was first included in the investigation report and could lead to discovery of the cause of the accident was later omitted,” said Ethiopian Transport Communication Minister Diriba Kuma in an interview.
According to the minister, eyewitness accounts such as the one that said the plane blew up in mid-air were left out. “Crucial information the Ethiopian investigation team asked to be included in the report was also not included,” Diriba said to Capital about the preliminary report.
Why the report may not reveal the truth
Within hours of the accident the Lebanese transportation and public works minister Ghazi Aridi and defense minister Elias el-Murr claimed in a press conference that the pilot had ‘failed to follow instructions from the control tower to correct his path and avoid a thunder storm.’ The officials later apologized for their remarks which broke the industry’s culture of not giving conclusive remarks before an investigation was conducted.
“The remarks were deliberate. When the officials offered apologies later, only the local media was in attendance in the press conference and it was not reported widely though when the allegations were earlier made foreign press correspondents were called in,” a source, who was first involved in the investigation, told Capital.
A high level Ethiopian delegation led by former Foreign Affairs Minister Seyoum Mesfin and Diriba was dispatched following the crash. According to Diriba, the lack of cooperation at the time of the rescue attempt eased after talks and Lebanon promised to conduct the investigation cooperatively.
“Despite the promise, we are now concerned with the lack of cooperation from the Lebanese officials,” Diriba said shortly after the visit.
Ethiopian Airlines released a statement early this week condemning what it called repeated attempts by some Lebanese media to sway public opinion by publishing unfounded and speculative information as to the cause behind the accident of ET-409.
For another source, who was close to the ET-409 probe and spoke on condition of anonymity, Lebanese officials’ efforts including leaking information and concealing crucial evidence such as recovered bodies of the passengers and the aircraft’s wreckage, is likely to be an effort to cover up possible sabotage.
“The involved states were first briefed by the Lebanese civil aviation director general that 25 bodies were recovered shortly after the accident. The report was confirmed by the search and rescue command centre. But a day later when experts involved in the investigation sought to look at the bodies in hospital, 11 were missing,” the source explained.
“I was wrong. It was only 14 bodies that were discovered,” the Lebanese civil aviation official casually said in response when asked about the missing bodies.
According to experts, the recovered bodies could have exhibited burn marks or other injuries that could reveal if an explosion of any kind did occur, but the released bodies are missing parts needed for such an investigation.
According to Sara Persson another aircraft was involved in the crash, though Lebanese officials had never disclosed it. Sara Persson is a freelance journalist now embedded with coalition force fighting in Afghanistan and covering that war for the BBC World News radio service.
This investigative report uncovered evidence of a second aircraft, verified by four separate sources, an Etihad Airways Airbus A319, Flight EY 533, inbound from Abu Dhabi International Airport, came in close proximity to ET 409, indicating a possible evasive maneuver, and improper separation of the two planes by Lebanese authorities.
In addition, statements made anonymously by Lebanese airport sources reported that Captain Habtamu Benti, the pilot in command of the ET Boeing 737-800 encountered engine problems, perhaps a flame out, during takeoff, and requested permission to abort the flight and return to Beirut.
“He was given clearance to do so, but another aircraft, the Etihad Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates was in the process of landing and could have interfered with his emergency maneuvers. Exactly what happened under this scenario is not yet known,” the report said.
The report first published these findings in the Lebanese Arabic language newspaper Al-Akhbar. The journalist until today has stood by her report, and has subsequently started working for the BBC.
Such investigative reports and as to why a military officer’s eyewitness testimony that said the plane exploded before impact was omitted, remains unanswered.
Though Ethiopian authorities didn’t comment on the latest report, they had vowed to reject any biased report from Lebanon Government they already accused of concealing crucial evidence on the early days of the investigation.
“We will not accept any reports that do not follow the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) codes,” the transport minister Diriba had cautioned.