The aircraft manufacturer Boeing faces further questions over the safety of its 737 Max 8 jet as Ethiopian Airlines joined carriers in China and elsewhere in grounding the planes after a crash on Sunday that killed all 157 people onboard.
Ethiopian Airlines said on Monday that the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder had both been recovered from the wreckage of flight ET302, meaning the cause of the crash could be soon determined.
Its plane, on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, crashed six minutes after takeoff, ploughing into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, 40 miles south-east of the Ethiopian capital.
Boeing’s shares fell 13% within minutes of Wall Street opening on Monday morning. More than 300 Boeing 737 Max planes are in operation and more than 5,000 have been ordered worldwide since 2017.
The disaster was the second involving the new 737 Max 8 in the past four months. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed into the sea off the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, killing all 189 people onboard.
Aviation experts, Chinese regulators, and concerned passengers highlighted the fact that both crashes involved models that had been in service for only a short time.
Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general of the US transportation department, told CNN the latest disaster was “highly suspicious” and “rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn’t happen”.
Provisional flight data from the tracking website FlightRadar24 suggested flight ET302 climbed erratically in the short time it was in the air. The pilot of the plane, as in the Lion Air case, reported difficulties to air traffic controllers quickly after takeoff and requested permission to turn back, Ethiopian Airlines said.
The airline, Africa’s largest carrier, announced it would be taking its 737 Max planes out of service. Earlier on Monday, China’s civil aviation administration ordered the country’s airlines to ground their Boeing 737 Max 8 jets “in view of the fact that the two air crashes were newly delivered Boeing 737-8 aircraft” and had “certain similarities”.
Approximately 60 of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes have been delivered to about a dozen Chinese airlines since the craft was released. On Monday two Chinese airlines told the Guardian they had begun using Boeing 737-800 aircraft instead of the Max 8.
Cayman Airways, which also flies the Boeing 737 Max 8, announced that it too would ground the planes while an investigation into the crash took place. The Cayman Airways president and chief executive, Fabian Whorms, said the airline was “putting the safety of our passengers and crew first”.
Passengers on British Airways flights in Africa could be flying on the same model, with the first of eight new 737 Max 8 planes having come into service last month.
Although BA said it did not operate Max 8s in its fleet, it franchises an African airline, Comair, which flies the model in BA livery from Johannesburg around southern Africa, including to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. A Comair spokesman said it had no plans to stop operating the plane.
The holiday operator Tui Airways ordered 32 Max aircraft as part of a fleet overhaul and took delivery of its first Max 8 in December. Tui was the first UK-registered airline to receive one of the new Boeing aircraft and it plans to roll out its orders over the next five years.
Several airlines told the Guardian they did not intend to ground their flights, including Fiji Airways which said it had “full confidence in the airworthiness of our fleet”.
Singapore Airlines, which has five Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in the fleet of its regional carrier SilkAir and a further 31 on firm order, said it had not grounded the aircraft and was “continuing to monitor the situation closely”.
Other airlines that have ordered the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes but are yet to receive delivery of them, including Virgin Australia and Air Niugini, said they had no plans to alter their order and it was too early to comment at this stage.
Boeing said on Sunday it was cancelling an event in Seattle to showcase its new 777X airliner scheduled for Wednesday.
On Sunday, Alvin Lie, an aviation expert and official at the Indonesian ombudsman’s office, told the Jakarta Post the Indonesian government should ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft “in order to prevent more accidents”. Indonesia has two airlines that use the planes – Garuda Airlines and Lion Air.
The victims of the Ethiopian Airlines flight came from at least 32 countries. The largest number were from Kenya. Among the dead were 22 UN staff, many heading for an assembly of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi.
At the opening of the assembly on Monday morning, delegates paid their respects with a moment of silence for the victims. “We have lost fellow delegates, interpreters and UN staff,” said the president of the assembly, Siim Kiisler, Estonia’s environment minister. “I express my condolences to those who lost loved ones in the crash.”