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Monday, January 25, 2010

Ethiopian airliner crashed into the Mediterranean

From Times Online
January 25, 2010

The Ethiopian airliner which crashed into the Mediterranean soon after take-off today was a Boeing 737, the best-selling commercial aircraft in aviation history.

With more than 6,000 of the workhorse planes sold since it was launched in 1967, the short haul jet is a favourite of budget airlines. All of Ryanair's 210-strong fleet of planes are 737-800s. One takes off somewhere in the world every five seconds.

Although it has been involved in at least 68 fatal crashes in the last 43 years, aviation experts say that the 737 has a good safety record when the sheer number of miles it has flown is taken into account.

The plane involved in today's incident, a 737-8BK, was comparatively new, according to one report. Built in 2002, it went into service in June 2007 with Flyglobespan, was leased to Oman Air between May 31 2008 and May 8 2009, before being delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in September. It passed its latest maintenance test on December 25 with no technical problems.

In the last decade there have been at least five previous incidents in which a 737 crashed shortly after take-off: at Medan in Indonesia and at Lagos in Nigeria in 2005, at Egypt's Sharm-el-Sheikh airport in 2004 and in Algeria and Sudan the previous year.

The 2003 tragedies involved engine failure, but the 737 has also had a history of rudder problems. A valve in the rudder assembly has previously reportedly malfunctioned and caused the rudder to turn independently of the pilot’s commands.

In October 2002 the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States gave US airlines a six year deadline to replace rudder systems on all their 737s, after rudder failure was blamed for crashes in 1991 and 1994 that killed 157 people.

Until today the most recent fatal crash happened last February as a Turkish Airlines 737-800 crash-landed into a field a mile short of Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, killing nine passengers and crew. A faulty altimeter which had prompted the engines to idle and stall has been blamed.

Less than a month ago the 154 people aboard a 737 flight to Jamaica had a narrow escape when their plane skidded off the end of the runway at Kingston airport in bad weather, crossed a road and came to rest on a beach, yards from the water.

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