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Ethiopian Airlines CEO tells CNN plane had “flight control problems”

In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Richard Quest, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said the pilot told air traffic control they were having “flight control problems” before the crash.

When asked if there should be a ban on the type of plane involved in the accident (Boeing 737 MAX 8) GebreMariam said “speculation is not helpful” but listed many countries who have already grounded flights, including the UK.

The CEO said he saw “substantial” similarities between this crash and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia. He also confirmed that the plane’s black box data recorders “will be sent overseas,” rather than being read in Ethiopia, which does not have the technical capability to do it. He did not say where they would be read.

Read the full story and get live updates here:

Key quotes below:

On what happened:

“The pilot reported flight control problems, so he was having difficulties with the flight control of the airplane, so he asked to return back to base and clearance was given to him. That was at 8.44am where at the same time the airplane disappeared from the radar”

“As you know in the industry we call it flight control because it’s a general reporting system, so since then as you might have followed we have grounded four airplanes that we have and China has also grounded the airplane followed by Singapore, Australia, UK… more than 100 airplane are now grounded all over the world”

On whether there should be a worldwide ban of Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes:

“Although we don’t yet know the exact cause of the accident, speculation is not helpful in either way, but I think there are questions without answers on the airplane”

On whether new processes were introduced after the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia:

“Yes, there was AD released by Boeing and we have circulated to our pilots and there was also a briefing on the AD, it was just clarification of the procedure. So yes, the pilots were well briefed on the airworthiness directive”

On whether there was any extra training for pilots flying the MAX model:

“The Max is a bit different form the NG, so there was training for each pilot to transition from the NG although they’re almost similar version but there was transition training and then once after the Lion Air accident there was an AD as I said and there was training”

On similarities between this crash and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia:

“We believe the similarities are substantial, there was the same airplane model, brand new airplane and the flights were very short. I think 8mins in the case of Lion Air and 6mins flight in our case and the fact that the other countries are also now raising questions on the airplane shows there is very significant similarities on the two accidents. And also, two major accidents on the same airplane model, brand new airplane model in 6 months. So, there are a lot of questions to be answered”

On the data recording black boxes:

“We are going to send them outside of Ethiopia because we don’t have the equipment here and that is going to be decided by the accident investigation bureau under the ministry of transport in Ethiopia and of course with the cooperation of the aircraft manufacturer, the country of aircraft manufacturing which is the United States and designated by NTSB”

Will the boxes be sent to the United States?

“I don’t have that information but it could also be to a closer country in Europe in the interest of proximity and in the interest of speed”


“I take this opportunity to pass my sympathy and heartfelt condolences to our dear passengers who have lost their lives in this tragic accident and my condolences to their families, friends and relatives”

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