By ELIAS MESERET and YIDNEK KIRUBEL
HEJERE, Ethiopia (AP) — Britain joined a growing number of countries grounding a new Boeing plane involved in the Ethiopian Airlines disaster as a global team of investigators began picking through the rural crash site on March 12.
Some airlines cited worried customers for grounding the Boeing 737 Max 8, as experts chased details on why the plane crashed shortly after takeoff on March 10, killing all 157 on board.
Ethiopian Airlines had issued no new updates on the crash as of late afternoon as families around the world waited for answers. Some insights into the disaster and its cause could take months, aviation experts said.
Oman, Norwegian Air Shuttle and South Korean airline Eastar Jet also were the latest to halt use of the Boeing 373 Max 8. Malaysia, Australia and Singapore suspended all flights into or out of their countries.
The U.S.-based Boeing, however, has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies, and it does not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers. Its technical team joined American, Israeli, United Arab Emirates, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation led by Ethiopian authorities.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it expects Boeing will soon complete improvements to an automated anti-stall system suspected of contributing to the deadly crash of another new Boeing 737 Max 8 in October, and update training requirements and related flight crew manuals.
Safety experts have cautioned against drawing too many comparisons too soon with that Lion Air crash of the same model that killed 189 people in Indonesia.
The Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed in clear weather six minutes after taking off for Nairobi.
One witness told The Associated Press that he saw smoke coming from the plane’s rear before it crashed in a rural field. “The plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded,’’ farmer Tamrat Abera said.
It should take five days before any victims’ remains are identified, Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw told the AP. The dead came from 35 countries and included dozens of humanitarian workers.
A pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told the AP the plane appeared to have “slid directly into the ground.’’
Capt. Solomon Gizaw was among the first people dispatched to find the crash site, which was discovered by Ethiopia’s air force.
“There was nothing to see,’’ he said. “It looked like the earth had swallowed the aircraft. … We were surprised!’’
He said it explained why rescue officials quickly sent bulldozers to begin digging out large pieces of the plane.
Investigators found the jetliner’s two flight recorders at the crash site on March 11. An airline official, however, told the AP one recorder was partially damaged.
“The engine is here, the wreckage, the humans, the flesh and remains, still we are collecting,’’ one investigator at the site, Amdey Fanta, said.
Ethiopian Airlines, widely seen as Africa’s best-managed airline, grounded its remaining four 737 Max 8s until further notice as “an extra safety precaution.’’ The carrier had been using five of the planes and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.
Airlines in China and Indonesia, Aeromexico, Brazil’s Gol Airlines, India’s Jet Airways and others also have temporarily grounded their 737 Max 8s.
As the global team searched for answers, a woman stood near the crash site, wailing.
Kebebew Legess said she was the mother of a young Ethiopian Airlines crew member among the dead.
“She would have been 25 years old but God would not allow her,’’ she wept. “My daughter, my little one.’’