Ethiopia Flight 409: The Questions Keep Coming

George's Point of View

Newspaper reports talk about traces of black soot on the Auxiliary Power Unit. The APU is like your computer backup—similar in theory to the battery backup you may have at home hooked to your computer.
The APU is an auxiliary engine that provided electric power and air to the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 until the main engines began to run.
We ourselves haven’t seen soot, or proof of fire–but we haven’t seen much proof at all, since the report that we keep hearing whispers of has not been made public.
Some facts are known We know, for example, that…
—…the APU is located in the rudder section.
—…the weather was bad.
OLBA 250300Z 06004KT 030V090 5000 VCTS RA FEW020CB BKN026 10/06 Q1014 NOSIG
We have heard rumors which may or may not be unfounded:
—Statements made anonymously by Lebanese airport sources report that Captain Habtamu Benti, the pilot in command (PIC) of the Ethiopian Airlines 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, a Etihad Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates was in the process of landing and could have interfered with his emergency maneuvers. *
But some information has been made public.
—The rudder found at the plane’s tail was reported to have been sent to France.
—“One of the five cockpit voice recorders which has a damaged segment will be sent from France’s BEA to a Seattle-based company [Honeywell] to recover that lost segment.”
So we have even more questions. Where, for example, are the statements of the witnesses? What has France said about the rudder? Has the APU been found, and if so, what is its condition?
Even if ATC sent pilot in to a storm, the pilot also has radar and should have seen the storm and refused the order to take off and/or the heading issued to him. Did his radar fail? Did the APU fail? It might well be that the pilot was misled by a radar system in the plane that was not operating correctly. Unlikely, but, possible. There are still a lot of possibilities we can not rule out. The captain had too many hours logged to take off in to a storm with a plane that he knew was not built to withstand the forces of a cell ahead of him.
Even if there is no immediate report available yet, we look forward to the promised release in March/July. (They say that data collection will continue until March 15 2011, in April the data will be verified/validated by Ethiopian and Lebanese authorities, officials of Boeing and the US National Transport Safety Board by May 30th, with a tentative public release date in July.) When more official information is released, it will help to rule out all gross speculation, so we can focus on possible culpable parties in the chain of events that caused this tragedy.
We shall see.

Originally posted by George Hatcher on Sunday, February 20th, 2011 at 4:04 am