“Something went extraordinarily wrong”: Boeing 737 Max swung up and down

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One glimpse at the terrifying trajectory of the Ethiopian Airlines jetliner that crashed on Sunday shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa and it is clear something was dreadfully wrong from the start.

As The New York Times notes, controllers also observed that the aircraft, a new Boeing 737 Max 8, was oscillating up and down by hundreds of feet – a sign that something was extraordinarily wrong.

Pilots are reportedly abuzz over publicly available radar data that showed the aircraft had accelerated far beyond what is considered standard practice, for reasons that remain unclear.

“The thing that is most abnormal is the speed,” said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and former 737 pilot.

“The speed is very high,” said Mr. Cox, a former executive air safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association in the United States. “The question is why. The plane accelerates far faster than it should.” NYT

According to officials with Ethiopian Airlines, the crew of flight 302 told air traffic control they they were experiencing “flight control” problems just a few minutes before contact was lost. Pilot Yared Getachew – who had more than 8,000 hours of flying experience, reported the initial “flight control” problem in a calm voice within one minute of departure. 

According to the radar, the aircraft was flying far below the minimum safe altitude recommended during takeoff. Within two minutes, the plane had climbed to a safer altitude, and the pilot reported that he wanted to remain on a straight course to 14,000 feet.

The plane then proceeded to rapidly climb and fall by hundreds of feet while flying unusually fast, according to the Times. Air traffic controllers “started wondering out loud what the flight was doing.”

The plane’s trajectory was so erratic that two other Ethiopian flights – 613 and 629, where ordered to remain at higher altitudes.

While the controllers were instructing the other planes to keep their distance, a panicked Captain Getachew interrupted just three minutes into their flight and requested to turn back as the plane accelerated to even higher speeds well beyond the plane’s safety limits.

A minute later, it disappeared from the radar while flying over a restricted military zone.

As the Times notes, the crash of flight 302 is reminiscent of the October crash of another Boeing 737 Max 8 which crashed in Indonesia.