The truth must be told about Ethiopian Flight 409

By Mengistu Adugna

Over the last few days, most of us have been in sombre sadness disheartened by the disaster of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight FT-409 destined Beirut to Addis Ababa – leading to the death of 90 people onboard as it has now (at the time of this writing) been confirmed. Firstly, my condolences go to the families of the victims irrespective of where/who they belong to.

In this disaster, we also have been witnessing the unfair treatment given by some of the Beirut media and some circles directly or indirectly linked to the case. Though we may not have love for our own rulers in Addis Ababa, one of the Ethiopian iconic and unifying emblems in the tri-colour is the Ethiopian Airlines. I have been saddened to witness, at early stages of the Beirut tragedy, the unfair blames that the Tri-colour and its flight crew have been receiving, as have been mischaracterised by the Lebanese journalists, Ministry of Transport, Defence Officials etc. These comments of mine don’t implicate the Prime Minister of Beirut and other Officials who fairly have been reflecting on this tragedy.
In the first day, one of the Lebanese journalists made a crude and wrong statement saying that “the Ethiopian Airlines is not one of the best in the world.” The same journalist, by the name “Mariam Soleh,” also stated that “the pilot could have flown his plane better”, that “he must have made a mistake somewhere.” She continued saying that the pilot “did give extra fuel” to the plane. The question one asks is that did she say anything critical about the flight controllers at the airport? With no doubt in her mind she was in fact praising them that they were supporting/aiding the pilot! The Lebanese air traffic controllers have also characterized the cause of the disaster as that the pilot hasn’t maneuvered the plane as instructed by them. This view has been repeatedly played by some circles of the Lebanese victims’ family.

To this end, the Lebanese Defense Ministry and the Transportation Ministry have stated that pilot failed to follow recommendations to change the course of the flight.” This was adding the fuel to the earlier speculation of the officials with the intention of concealing the authorities’ mishandling of the flight by instructing the pilot to take off under adverse weather condition in the first place. The fact that other planes were taking off/landing can’t justify the wrong decision made by the flight controllers or anybody associated. What some circles of the Beirut media and some of the officials are doing is pointing fingers at others — the crew of the Ethiopian in this case.

I posted comments in protest of the officials’ unethical and unprofessional statements on Monday. The journalist mentioned above seemed to me that she has no proper training in journalism. The other media outlets were echoing the same guilty verdict around the world.

The Beirut air traffic controllers are in a similar way attempting to delegate responsibility by blaming the Ethiopian pilot with 20 years experience of flying a commercial jet when they have advised him to take off in such adverse weather condition.

It would be premature to draw conclusions regarding the cause of this tragedy before a complete investigation of this disaster is conducted. This has to involve the US experts knowledgeable in such cases, Boeing engineers, the Ethiopian Airlines, the Lebanese and other relevant bodies that can help with the investigation.

In the mean time, the Ethiopian Airlines management, engaging knowledgeable experts in the field, should aggressively defend the Airlines’ good name and reputation.

(The author, Mengistu Adugna, Ph.D., is a University lecturer in Computer Networks and Distributed Applied Programming. He can be reached at: [email protected])