Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ethiopia, Lebanon dispute aircraft accident probe

An international dispute Wednesday started brewing between Ethiopia and Lebanon over the handling of an investigation into the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane, which killed all the 90 people on board short l y after take-off from Beirut on 25 January.

Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Girma Wake said the handling of the investigation into the cause of the air accident appeared to lean on a single idea that pilot error was solely to blame for the crash.

It is hardly one cause that can lead to an accident. There are a lot of thing s that can lead to an accident. I do not know of any single case where only one side causes an accident, Wake said.

Wake, a reputed pilot, said Beirut air traffic instructions for the airline pilot to change direction could not be the sole reason for the crash of the airline' s Boeing 737 jetliner.

Lebanese authorities have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian airline of flying into the wrong direction after receiving orders to change direction

 Wake told a news conference Wednesday.

Speaking hours before Lebanese authorities were due to release an interim report into the cause of the accident, one of the worst in the airlines 60 years of safe flying, Wake said the high-level political interference with the investigations were designed to purposely mislead.

The Ethiopian airline's chief said the neutrality of the investigating team was critical, if the exact reasons behind the jet's crash were to be arrived at.

I am not happy with the way the investigations are going. They (investigators ) have not been forthcoming in many ways. But my concern is not the investigator s , they are free to do what they want to do, what disturbs me is the Lebanese authorities, who contradict each other ¦this is not what officials who want the truth to come out does.

Are we out for a big war? I hope investigators will come up with a proper system of analyzing information, to avoid a war, ¦we are not ready to accept conclusions without a proper analysis, he said, underlining the growing dispute over the causes of the crash.

We are asking questions that should lead to the truth, Wake said, when asked about the involvement of the French investigators in the analysis of information so far obtained from the aircraft wreckage.

Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi ruled out sabotage as a possible cause of the air accident, while the Ethiopian Airlines insisted that the investigating team could not rule out any possible causes.

The blame game over the possible causes of the 25 January crash has intensified lately after a series of media reports, quoting government and French investigators blamed pilot error for the crash.

Wake said the Ethiopian Airlines and the government were not only concerned about the purposely misleading reports, but were concerned these were likely to mislead the investigating team.

Until now, we have learnt of nothing to indicate pilot error as a possible reason behind the crash. The investigating team has never come up with pilot error because the analysis of the information has not even started, Wake said, warni ng of political manipulation of the investigations.

Lebanon handed out the aircraft's Flight Data Recorder, known as the Black Box , to the French authorities and later retrieved the Cockpit Voice Recorder, another part of the Black Box, which records the conversations between the pilot and the air traffic controllers at the airport control tower.

The Ethiopian Airlines said the initially misleading reports from Lebanon that the Voice Data recorder was found, was later reversed after the airline sent its representative to listen to the recorder.

Wake said the Ethiopian Authorities were allowed to see the other missing components of the Voice Data Recorder only after it had been retrieved from the sea and sealed.

We were told some parts of the black box had suffered damage but the sound quality is good and it is more or less intact. Wake said, adding that the voice recorder had one component, a chip, missing.

We cannot accuse the Lebanese of removing the missing chip, it may have come off due to the impact of the crash but we still do not know about the exact level of the impact, Wake said.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA)

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