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Ethiopian Airlines flight crashes, killing 157 aboard Boeing 737

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet to Nairobi crashed early on Sunday, killing 149 passengers and eight crew, the airline said, the same model that crashed during a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October.

Sunday’s flight left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8:38 am (0538 GMT), before losing contact with the control tower just a few minutes later at 8:44 am.

“The group CEO who is at the scene right now deeply regrets to confirm there are no survivors,” the airline tweeted alongside a picture of Tewolde GebreMariam in a suit holding a piece of debris inside a large crater.

Passengers from 33 countries were aboard, said Tewolde in a news conference. The dead included Kenyan, Ethiopian, American, Canadian, French, Chinese, Egyptian, Swedish, British and Dutch citizens.

At Nairobi airport, many relatives of passengers were left waiting at the gate for hours, with no information from airport authorities. Some learned of the crash from journalists.

“We’re just waiting for my mum. We’re just hoping she took a different flight or was delayed. She’s not picking up her phone,” said Wendy Otieno, clutching her phone and weeping.

Robert Mutanda, 46, was waiting for his brother-in-law, a Canadian citizen.

“No, we haven’t seen anyone from the airline or the airport,” he told Reuters at 1pm, more than three hours after the flight was lost. “Nobody has told us anything, we are just standing here hoping for the best.”

Kenyan officials did not arrive at the airport until 1:30, five hours after the plane went down.

James Macharia, the cabinet secretary for transport, said he heard about the crash via Twitter.

“UNSTABLE SPEED”

Flight ET 302, registration number ET-AVJ, crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62 kilometers southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, the airline said.

“The pilot mentioned that he had difficulties and that he wanted to return. He was give the clearance (to return back),” said Tewolde during his news conference.

The flight had unstable vertical speed after take off, said flight tracking website Flightradar24 on its Twitter feed.

The aircraft had shattered into many pieces and was severely burnt, a Reuters reporter at the scene of the crash said.

The airline had earlier incorrectly identified the plane’s model number, but later confirmed it was a 737 MAX 8.

It’s not clear what caused the crash. Boeing sent condolences to the families and said it was ready to help investigate.

“A Boeing technical team is prepared to provide technical assistance at the request and under the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board,” the company said in a statement.

People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

This is the second recent crash of the relatively new 737 MAX 8, the latest version of Boeing’s workhorse narrowbody jet that first entered service in 2017.

The same model crashed into the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta on Oct 29, killing all 189 people on board the Lion Air flight.

The cause of that crash is still under investigation. A preliminary report issued in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a reason for the crash. A final report is due later this year.

The plane is the latest version of the 737, the world’s best selling modern passenger aircraft and one of the industry’s most reliable.

ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES

Under international rules, responsibility for leading the crash investigation lies with Ethiopian authorities, while the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will automatically take part because the Boeing aircraft was designed and built in the United States.

Investigators will seek to secure the crash site and collect evidence starting with black boxes capturing cockpit conversations and data, while compiling records on recent operations of the plane and the crew.

Representatives of Boeing and Cincinnati-based engine-maker CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and General Electric Co and France’s Safran SA will advise the NTSB.

Ethiopian is one of the biggest carriers on the continent by fleet size. It said previously that it expected to carry 10.6 million passengers last year.

New Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been promising to open up the state-owned airline to domestic and international investors.

Slideshow (10 Images)

The crash comes as Ethiopian has been snapping up stakes in small carriers around the continent to pre-empt potential rivals and become the dominant pan-African airline.

Its last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after take-off, killing all 90 people onboard. The Lebanese blamed pilot error, which was disputed by the airline.

Additional reporting by Hereward Holland, Omar Mohamed and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Tim Hepher in Brussels and Jamie Freed in Singapore; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S. whiskey exports dry up as tariffs bite

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(Reuters) – American whiskey exports slumped in the second half of 2018, taking a blow from higher duties by the country’s trading partners following President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, an industry group said on Thursday.

A man drinks American whiskey at a bar in Shanghai, China, April 6, 2018. Picture taken April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union slapped import duties ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent on U.S whiskey and bourbon last year, resulting in a 11 percent drop in U.S. whiskey exports in the second half, according to a report from the Distilled Spirits Council.

For the first six months of 2018, whiskey exports grew 28 percent compared to the same period in 2017, partly helped by companies like Jack Daniels maker Brown-Forman Corp, fast-tracking shipments overseas, especially to Europe, before the tariffs kicked in.

Overall for the full-year 2018, whiskey exports rose 5.1 percent to $1.18 billion, a significant drop from the 16 percent rise seen in 2017.

Exports to the European Union fell 13.4 percent in the second half of the year, after rising 33 percent during the first six months.

The European Union, which imposed a 25 tariff on American whiskey, is the largest market for the liquor, accounting for nearly 60 percent of total exports, according to the Council.

Earlier in March, Brown-Forman said absorbing the costs of tariffs in key European markets was the primary reason for the decline in its third-quarter gross profit margin.

The company also said its sales would take a hit in 2019 if the tariffs were to remain in place.

“The damage to American whiskey exports is now accelerating, and this is collateral damage from ongoing global trade disputes,” Distilled Spirits Council Chief Executive Officer Chris Swonger said.

Total U.S. spirits exports rose 9.5 percent to $1.8 billion in 2018, but also slowed from 2017, the report showed.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Exclusive: Ethiopian crash captain untrained on 737 MAX simulator

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The captain of a doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight was unable to practice on a new simulator for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 before he died in a crash with 157 others, a pilot colleague said.

Yared Getachew, 29, was due for refresher training at the end of March, his colleague told Reuters, two months after Ethiopian Airlines had received the simulator.

The March 10 disaster, following another MAX 8 crash in Indonesia in October, has set off one of the biggest inquiries in aviation history, focused on whether pilots were sufficiently versed on a new automated system.

In both cases, the pilots lost control soon after take-off and fought a losing battle to stop their jets plunging down.

In the Ethiopian crash, it was not clear if Yared’s colleague – First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed, 25, who also died in the crash – had practiced on the new MAX simulator.

Globally, most commercial airline pilots refresh training in simulators every six months. It was not clear if Yared or Ahmednur would have been trained on the new simulator or an older one for 737s that their airline also owned.

The MAX, which came into service two years ago, has a new automated system called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). It is meant to prevent a loss of lift which can cause an aerodynamic stall sending the plane downwards in an uncontrolled way.

“Boeing did not send manuals on MCAS,” the Ethiopian Airlines pilot told Reuters in a hotel lobby, declining to give his name as staff have been told not to speak in public.

“Actually we know more about the MCAS system from the media than from Boeing.”

Under unprecedented scrutiny and with its MAX fleet grounded worldwide, the world’s largest planemaker has said airlines were given guidance on how to respond to the activation of MCAS software. It is also promising a swift update to the system.

Ethiopian Airlines declined to comment on the remarks of its pilot to Reuters about the simulator and MCAS system.

Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Writing by Jamie Freed and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S.-backed fighters say operation at last Islamic State enclave not over

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DEIR AL-ZOR, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Syrian fighters said they were still searching territory captured from Islamic State at its final enclave in eastern Syria on Thursday and denied a report the jihadists had been finally defeated.

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The final capture of the Baghouz enclave at the Iraqi border will mark the end of Islamic State territorial rule that once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq after years of military campaigns by a range of international and local forces.

After weeks of fighting, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took a big step towards capturing the besieged area on Tuesday when they seized an encampment where the jihadists had been mounting a last defense of the area.

“Combing continues in the Baghouz camp,” an SDF media official said, citing commanders of the operation on Thursday, after the Syrian Kurdish news outlet Hawar reported that the entire enclave had been captured and IS defeated.

“There is no truth (to the report of) the complete liberation of the village,” the official said.

The report on Hawar News, which is close to the Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria, was later removed from its website.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that a “tiny spot” of remaining IS territory would be “gone by tonight”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has participated in the campaign, said on Wednesday he expected the announcement of the “final territorial defeat” to be made in the “next few days”.

Though the defeat of IS at Baghouz ends its grip over territory, it remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks.

The U.S. military has warned that Islamic State may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency.

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog released a report last month saying Islamic State remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria.

It warned the group could resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory without sustained pressure.

The United States believes Iraq is the location of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.

GRAPHIC – How Islamic State lost Syria: tmsnrt.rs/2O7l4mN

Additional reporting by Rodi Said in Qamishli, Syria; Writing by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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