1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

China orders grounding of all Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes

March 11, 2019

A plane crash in Ethiopia has prompted airlines in China, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Caymans to ground Boeing's 737 MAX 8 passenger jets. The same model was involved in another deadly crash less than six months ago.

Boeing 737 MAX 9
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Warren

All Chinese carriers were ordered to suspend the use of their 737 MAX 8 airplanes on Monday, a day after one of Boeing's narrow-body jets crashed in Ethiopia, China's aviation authority said. The Ethiopia tragedy, which claimed 157 lives, comes less than six months after a Lion Air crash in Indonesia which involved the same type of aircraft.

"Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during the takeoff phase, they have some degree of similarity," the CAAC said. The suspension, according to the CAAC, follows the body's principle of zero-tolerance on any safety hazards.

Read more: Boeing 737 MAX: Is the new airplane safe?

The Boeing plane model only entered service in 2017.

The CAAC said it would inform its airlines about ending the suspension after contacting the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing representatives to ensure flight safety. China's carriers operate nearly 100 737 MAX 8 jets.

Indonesia also announced all of its 737 MAX 8 jets would be kept on the ground for inspection. Separately, Ethiopia Airlines also banned all flights involving its four remaining 737 MAX 8s following the Sunday crash. Cayman Airways was also temporarily grounding its two planes of the same model.

Map showing the crash site in Ethiopia

Black box found

The Ethiopian jet came down minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday morning. All 149 passengers and eight members of the crew were killed.

Investigators found the plane's black boxes on Monday, Ethiopian state broadcaster reported. Both the flight data and the cockpit voice recorder have been recovered, according to Ethiopian Airlines.

Previously, the company's CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said that pilot attempted to return to the airport.

"The pilot mentioned that he had difficulties, and [that he wanted] to return. He was given clearance to turn around," the CEO told reporters. 

The Nairobi-bound plane had "no known technical problems," according to the executive. Weather conditions were good at the time of the flight, and the pilot had logged over 8,000 cumulative flight hours.

Flames before crash 

A witness cited by the AFP news agency reported the aircraft was already on fire on its "rear side" before hitting the ground. 

"The plane was swerving erratically before the crash," Tegegn Dechasa said.

The carrier said their move to ground their Boeing 737 was an "extra safety precaution" but stated that the cause of the crash was not yet known.

Forensic experts from Israel arrived to Ethiopia as search of the crash site continued. Monday was declared a day of mourning in the African country.

The Ethiopian company had bought five new 737 MAX 8 airplanes for its fleet, with 25 more set to be delivered.

Boeing to deploy team to Ethiopia

In a statement following the crash, Boeing said it was "deeply saddened" by the incident and would deploy its own team to the Ethiopia crash site to assist with the probe.

Following the Lion Air crash in October, a preliminary report found that the aircraft which went down in Indonesia had not been airworthy but did not pinpoint the exact cause of the crash. Investigators found equipment failures and inadequate airline safety measures, with the "black box" data showing pilot struggling with an automatic anti-stalling safety system, which kept pushing the plane's nose down.

The two crashes involving this model put Boeing under massive pressure, as its 737s have been a global best-seller for decades. Over 60 airlines have ordered a total of 5,000 of new MAX aircraft so far, and the company declared the "fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history" last year.

Foreign nationals aboard the crashed plane

Members of 35 different nationalities were on board the plane, including five Germans, according to the airline. Nationals of several other Western countries also died in the crash, including 18 Canadians, eight US citizens, eight Italians, seven French nationals, seven Brits, three Swedes, and three Austrians.

China confirmed eight Chinese victims, and Russian officials said three of their nationals lost their lives.

Germany's Foreign Ministry later confirmed the toll for German citizens. Several UN employees also lost their lives in the crash, including one of the five Germans, Anne-Katrin Feigl.

dj/ng (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

Every day, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. Sign up for the newsletter here.