The pilot of an Ethiopian Airways jet that crashed off the coast of Lebanon yesterday ignored instructions from the controller to avoid a series of violent thunderstorms, it has emerged today.
“A traffic control recording shows that the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction,” Elias Murr, the Lebanese Defence Minister, told a press conference. “We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot’s control.”
All 90 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 737 died when the aircraft crashed into the Mediterranean shortly after taking off from Beirut airport.
When flight ET409 took off, controllers gave it compass headings to avoid the powerful storms that crossed its flight path.
But the plane disappeared from radar five minutes after take-off when it apparently flew straight into the line of storms.
Ghazi Aridi, the Lebanese Transport Minister, said that the pilot flew in the opposite direction to that advised by the controllers. They “asked him to correct his path but he did a very fast and strange turn before disappearing completely from the radar,” he said.
There was no indication over what caused the crew to follow the wrong heading.
A violent thunderstorm is also believed to have been a major factor in the crash of Air France flight 447 that came down off Brazil last June 1.
The columns of wind in the heart of cumulonimbus clouds can quickly send aircraft out of control, which is believed to be the cause of the Ethiopian Airways plane losing control.
The aircraft was only at about 8,000ft altitude as it climbed away from Beirut. This would have given the crew only moments to regain control.