After two deadly crashes in 6 months, here’s what we know about the Boeing 737 MAX 8

Plane parts strewn across field where Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed

Air crash investigators and Red Cross workers retrieved remains and personal items belonging to the passengers and crew members who were on flight ET302. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft came down minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa.
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Air crash investigators and Red Cross workers retrieved remains and personal items belonging to the passengers and crew members who were on flight ET302. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft came down minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa.

Several airlines, from China to the Cayman Islands, grounded new jets after the second major disaster involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8 in less than six months, according to multiple reports.

On Sunday morning an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board the flight from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya, ABC News reports. That’s the same type of plane that crashed into the Java Sea in October just after a Lion Air flight took off from Indonesia, according to ABC.

The October 29 crash killed all 189 people on board.

Investigators in Ethiopia recovered the black boxes from Sunday’s crash, CNN reports. There’s no direct link between the crashes as investigators work to figure out what happened with the Ethiopian Airlines flight, CNN reports.

But, former Inspector General of the U.S. Transportation Department and CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo said, “Here we have a brand-new aircraft that’s gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn’t happen.”

“The similarities with Lion Air are too great not to be concerned,” Schiavo told CNN.

As of January, Boeing had 5,011 orders for the new 737 MAX, according to company data. The company reported 350 of those had been delivered as of January.

According to Boeing sales data on the 737 MAX as of January 2019:

  • Southwest Airlines ordered 280, and 31 have been delivered.
  • United Airlines ordered 136, but only 12 have been delivered.
  • Air Canada has 20, waiting on 41 more.
  • Alaska Airlines ordered 32, but none have been delivered.
  • American Airlines ordered 100, and 22 have been delivered.
  • Ethiopian Airlines ordered 30, and 5 have been delivered.
  • Indonesia’s Lion Air ordered 201, and 14 have been delivered.
  • Several different Chinese companies have ordered hundreds

Boeing unveiled it’s 737 MAX 8 in 2017, the newest model of Boeing’s most popular plane that has become an airline workhorse for short and medium-range trips, The New York Times reports.

The New York Times reported after the Indonesia crash that Boeing convinced U.S. regulators that “the new model would fly safely and handle enough like the existing model that 737 pilots would not have to undergo costly retraining.”

The New York Times singled out software changes to the 737 MAX that could have caused the Lion Air flight to dive into the Java Sea: “The bottom line was that there was no regulatory requirement for Boeing or its airline customers to flag the changes in the flight control system for its pilots — and Boeing contended that there was no need, since, in the company’s view, the established emergency procedures would cover any problem regardless of whether it stemmed from the original system or the modification.”

A USA Today story Sunday cautioned against drawing parallels too early between the two crashes.

Aviation consultant and former Navy pilot Robert Ditchey told USA Today: “As far comparing it to the Lion crash, that’s very tempting because the profile looks very similar, but that could be totally wrong. We’re really early in all of this.”

Investigators from the United States National Transportation Safety Board and regulators from Ethiopia and Kenya are working to piece together what happened with the crash Sunday, CNN reports.

Boeing said it too will send a team to Ethiopia to assist with the investigation.

Boeing’s statement Sunday said: “Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team.”

The statement continued: “A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”

Southwest Airlines' showed off the new Boeing 737 MAX to employees on Friday. (September 23, 2016)

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.