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Ethiopian crash black boxes arrive in Paris for analysis

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PARIS/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Two black boxes from the Boeing 737 MAX airplane that crashed in Ethiopia arrived on Thursday in Paris for expert analysis, officials said, as regulators around the world awaited word on whether it was safe to resume flying the jets.

A bulldozer scopes the debris of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash before a commemoration ceremony at the scene of the crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A spokesman for France’s BEA air accident investigation agency said the flight data and cockpit voice recorders would be handed over to the agency later in the day.

Their data are critical to finding out what caused the brand new aircraft to plunge to the ground shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa on Sunday.

Following the lead of other global aviation regulators unnerved by the second crash involving a 737 MAX in less than five months, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued orders on Wednesday for the planes to be grounded.

Boeing, which maintained that its planes were safe to fly, said in a statement that it supported the FAA move.

“Boeing has determined – out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety – to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft.”

The FAA along with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Ethiopian civil aviation authority, and Boeing, have been investigating the crash at the site, some 60 km (around 40 miles) outside the Ethiopian capital.

On Thursday morning in Addis Ababa, grieving relatives of some of the 157 victims of Sunday’s air disaster boarded buses for a three-hour journey to the crash site.

Others described their visit on Wednesday to the arid farmland where the passenger jet crashed.

“We saw where he died and touched the earth,” said Sultan Al-Mutairi, who had come from Riyadh to mourn his brother, Saad, who ran a recruitment agency in Nairobi and perished in the crash.

Experts say it could take weeks or months to identify the victims, as their remains were scattered, charred and in fragments due to the impact of the crash and ensuing fire.

INVESTIGATION

Frustration is growing among the families of victims of the crash who are in Addis Ababa. On Thursday morning, some asked Ethiopian Airlines for greater transparency.

Both the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a Lion Air crash in Indonesia occurred just minutes after take-off.

Fresh information from the wreckage in Ethiopia and newly refined data about the plane’s flight path indicated some similarities between the two disasters “that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause,” the FAA said in a statement.

Acting FAA administrator Daniel Elwell said he did not know how long the U.S. grounding of the aircraft would last. A software fix for the 737 MAX that Boeing has been working on since a fatal crash last October in Indonesia will take months to complete, Elwell told reporters on Wednesday.

Deliveries of Boeing’s best-selling 737 MAX jets were effectively frozen, though production continued, after the United States joined a global grounding of the narrow-body model over safety concerns, industry sources said.

All 737 MAX jets have now been grounded, flight tracking website FlightRadar24 said. An Air Canada flight from San Francisco to Halifax was the last to land late on Wednesday.

With the uncertainty hanging over the 737 MAX, a French presidential source said European planemaker Airbus and Ethiopian Airlines are discussing a possible new contract as part of the airline’s fleet overhaul.

The official said President Emmanuel Macron and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had spoken about a possible new contract during Macron’s visit to Addis Ababa earlier this week.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Airlines operating the 737 MAX jets that have been delivered since its 2017 debut said they had canceled some of their flights and rearranged schedules to use other jets in their fleets.

“Our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our customers’ expectations during the busy spring travel season,” said U.S. carrier Southwest Airlines Co, the world’s biggest operator of the 737 MAX.

(For an interactive graphic on ‘Ethiopian Airlines crash’ click tmsnrt.rs/2ChBW5)

Reporting by Richard Lough and John Irish in Paris, Duncan Miriri and Aaron Masho in Addis Ababa, David Shepardson in Washington, Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Jon Boyle

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Exit poll has Thai opposition winning most seats but not enough for government

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai voters flocked to the polls on Sunday for the first election since a 2014 coup, and an exit poll indicated the populist party linked to exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra would win the most seats, but not enough to form a government.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) prepares to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The race has pitted military junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seeking to retain power and stay on as prime minister against a “democratic front” led by the Pheu Thai Party loyal to Thaksin.

Thailand has been under direct military rule since then-army chief Prayuth overthrew an elected pro-Thaksin government in 2014. Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin was thrown out by the army in 2006 and has lived in self-exile since 2008.

Unofficial results of Thailand’s first general election since 2011, from the Election Commission, were not due for several hours.

However, immediately after polls closed at 5 p.m. (1000 GMT) the Thai PBS channel aired an exit poll by Thai research center Super Poll that indicated Pheu Thai would win 163 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

The same exit poll indicated junta chief’s Palang Pracharat would win 96 seats, the establishment Democrat Party 77 seats, the Bhumjaithai Party 59 seats and the new Future Forward Party 40 seats.

If correct, the projection would mean that Pheu Thai would not have enough votes to form a majority government in its hoped-for “democratic front” with other parties.

Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party also could not form a government on its own, but it would have a better chance to form a coalition needed to elect a prime minister due to junta-written electoral rules that favor it.

Turnout was estimated to be high as 80 percent among the 51.4 million Thais eligible to vote, the Election Commission said about an hour before the polls closed.

Critics have said a new, junta-written electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent the Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party from returning to power.

Voters are choosing the 500-seat House of Representatives. The lower house of parliament and an upper house Senate, which is appointed entirely by the ruling junta, will select the next government.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, but the past 15 years have seen crippling street protests both by his opponents and supporters that destabilized governments and hamstrung business.

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by John Chalmers, Robert Birsel

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Thousands attend NZ vigil, rally to fight racism, remember Christchurch victims

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CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in New Zealand’s cities on Sunday to protest racism and remember the 50 Muslims killed by a gunman in Christchurch and as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a national remembrance service to be held later this week.

People attend a vigil for victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

About 15,000 turned out for an evening vigil in Christchurch in a park near the Al Noor mosque, where a suspected white supremacist killed more than 40 of the victims. Several more people were killed at the nearby Linwood mosque.

Many non-Muslim women wore headscarves at the vigil, some made by members of Christchurch’s Muslim community, to show their support for those of Islamic faith as they had at similar events last week.

Ardern said on Sunday that a national remembrance service would be held on March 29 to honor the victims, most of whom were migrants or refugees.

“The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values,” Ardern said in a statement.

The prime minister has been praised for her leadership following the attack. She swiftly moved to denounce the incident as terrorism, toughen gun laws and express national solidarity with the victims and their families.

The vigil started with an Islamic prayer, followed by a reading of the names of the victims, which included students from the nearby Cashmere High School.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can,” Okirano Tilaia, one of the school’s pupils, told the crowd. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can.”

Earlier in the day more than 1,000 people marched in a rally against racism in central Auckland, carrying “Migrant lives matters” and “Refugees welcome here,” placards.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.

As New Zealand continued to mourn and ask questions about how such an attack could have happened in the peaceful Pacific nation, the victims’ families spoke about their losses.

Shahadat Hossain, whose brother Mojammel Haque was killed in the attack, arrived in New Zealand on Saturday to bring his brother’s body back to Bangladesh.

“I can’t describe how I felt when I saw my brother’s lifeless body,” he told Reuters. “I was devastated.”

Farid Ahmed, who was at the Al Noor mosque when the shooting took place, escaped but his wife, Husna, was killed. On Sunday, he went door-to-door, thanking his neighbors for their support.

    “They came running… they were crying, they were in tears,” he said of his neighbors when they found out that Husna had died.

“That was a wonderful support and expression of love, and I am feeling that I should also take the opportunity to say to them that I also love them.”

Reporting by Jill Gralow Natasha Howitt, Charlotte Greenfield in Christchurch, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, James Redmayne and Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Sam Holmes

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Almost 400 people winched from stricken cruise liner off Norway

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OSLO (Reuters) – Rescue services had airlifted 397 people to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway by Sunday morning and were preparing to tow the vessel to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom “a large number” were from the United States and Britain, according to the rescue services.

Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, a local rescue coordinator told a news conference early on Sunday, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises.

One was taken to St. Olav’s Hospital in the town of Trondheim, which is central Norway’s most advanced medical facility. Others were taken to local hospitals in the region.

“Many have also been traumatized by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore,” the Norwegian Red Cross said in a statement.

The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines on Sunday morning but still needed assistance.

“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.

Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

BROKEN WINDOWS

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.

Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight meters (26 feet), and passengers earlier described the ordeal.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun,” American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK on Saturday.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Jane Merriman/Keith Weir

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