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HEJERE, Ethiopia - Airlines in Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and elsewhere grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner Monday after the second devastating crash of one of the planes in five months. But Boeing said it had no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies.
As the East African country mourned the 157 victims of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down in clear weather shortly after takeoff Sunday, investigators found the jetliner's two flight recorders at the crash site outside the capital of Addis Ababa.
An airline official, however, said one of the recorders was partially damaged and "we will see what we can retrieve from it." The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to the media.
A witness to the crash told The Associated Press that smoke was coming from the back of the plane before it hit the ground.
"Before falling down, the plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded," Tamrat Abera said. "When the villagers and I arrived at the site, there was nothing except some burning and flesh."
Ethiopian authorities are leading the investigation into the crash, assisted by the U.S., Kenya and others.
The crash was similar to that of a Lion Air jet of the same model in Indonesian seas last year, killing 189 people. The crash was likely to renew questions about the 737 Max 8, the newest version of Boeing's single-aisle airliner, which was first introduced in 1967 and has become the world's most common passenger jet.
Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes until more is known. Besides the groundings by airlines in Ethiopia, China and Indonesia, Aeromexico, Caribbean carrier Cayman Airways, Comair in South Africa and Royal Air Maroc in Morocco temporarily grounded their Max 8s.
"Before falling down, the plane rotated two times in the air, and it had some smoke coming from the back then, it hit the ground and exploded." -Witness Tamrat Abera.
Ethiopian Airlines decided to ground its remaining four 737 Max 8s until further notice as "an extra safety precaution," spokesman Asrat Begashaw said. The carrier had been using five of the planes and awaiting delivery of 25 more.
But Chicago-based Boeing said it did not intend to issue any new recommendations about the aircraft to its customers. It plans to send a technical team to the crash site to help investigators and issued a statement saying it was "deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew" on the jetliner.
Among the airlines still using the plane are Southwest, American and Air Canada.
In Washington, Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said passenger safety was the first priority for the administration.
"I want travellers to be assured and that we are taking this seriously and monitoring latest developments," she said.
It's unusual for authorities to take the step of grounding planes, and it's up to each country to set standards on which planes can fly and how those planes are maintained, said Todd Curtis, an aviation safety analyst who directs the Airsafe.com Foundation.
"If there is a suspicion ... that there's not only something inherently wrong with 737 Max 8 aircraft, but there are no procedures in place to cure the problem, then yes, they should either ground the plane, or there are several levels of things they could do," Curtis said.
People from 35 countries died in the crash six minutes after takeoff from Ethiopia's capital for Nairobi. Ethiopian Airlines said the senior pilot issued a distress call and was told to return but all contact was lost shortly afterward. The plane plowed into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu, scattering debris.
"I heard this big noise," resident Tsegaye Reta told the AP. "The villagers said that it was a plane crash, and we rushed to the site. There was a huge smoke that we couldn't even see the plane. The parts of the plane were falling apart."
Kenya lost 32 people, more than any country. Relatives of 25 of the victims had been contacted, Transport Minister James Macharia said, and taking care of their welfare was of utmost importance.
"Some of them, as you know, they are very distressed," he said. "They are in shock like we are. They are grieving."
In Addis Ababa, members of an association of Ethiopian airline pilots wept uncontrollably for their dead colleagues. Framed photos of seven crew members sat in chairs at the front of a crowded room.
The flight's main pilot, Yared Getachew, issued a distress call shortly after takeoff and was told to return, but all contact was lost.
Canada, Ethiopia, the U.S., China, Italy, France, Britain, Egypt, Germany, India and Slovakia all lost four or more citizens.
At least 21 staff members from the United Nations were killed in the crash, said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who led a moment of silence at a meeting where he said "a global tragedy has hit close to home."
Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and some had been on their way to a large U.N. environmental conference set to begin Monday in Nairobi. The U.N. flag at the event flew at half-staff.
The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in Africa, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to Ethiopian Airlines, which has expanded to become the continent's largest and best-managed carrier and turned Addis Ababa into the gateway to Africa.
The state-owned carrier has a good reputation and the company's CEO told reporters no problems were seen before Sunday's fight. But investigators also will look into the plane's maintenance, which may have been an issue in the Lion Air crash.
The plane was delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in November. The jet's last maintenance was on Feb. 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours.
China's Civil Aviation Administration said that it ordered airlines to ground all 737 Max 8 aircraft as of 6 p.m. (1000 GMT) Monday, in line with the principle of "zero tolerance for security risks."
It said it would issue further notices after consulting with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.
China Southern Airlines is one of Boeing's biggest customers for the aircraft.
Comair, the operator of British Airways and Kulula flights in South Africa, said it has grounded its Boeing 737 Max 8 while it consults with Boeing, other operators and technical experts. The statement did not say how many planes are affected. Wrenelle Stander, executive director of Comair's airline division, said that Comair "remains confident in the inherent safety of the aircraft."
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An official with Royal Air Maroc said the carrier in Morocco has halted the commercial use of its sole operational model, pending tests and examinations. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with departmental rules, said the plane was scheduled to fly on Monday from Casablanca to London but was replaced.
The 737 is the bestselling airliner in history, and the Max, the newest version of it with more fuel-efficient engines, is a central part of Boeing's strategy to compete with European rival Airbus.
"Safety is our No. 1 priority and we are taking every measure to fully understand all aspects of this accident, working closely with the investigating team and all regulatory authorities involved," Boeing said in a statement.
Boeing's stock fell 7 per cent to $391.80 in afternoon trading.
Meseret reported from Addis Ababa. Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas, Texas, contributed.
Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
Winnipeg victim 'smart, passionate, dedicated'
A Winnipeg woman killed in Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 plane crash was pursuing her passion in environmental issues and said in her final Facebook post that she "beyond privileged" to be doing so.
Danielle Moore, 24, was a devoted environmental and human-rights activist who had been living in Winnipeg for more than a year and working as an educator for Canada Learning Code's mobile program.
"Danielle was a smart, passionate, and a friendly woman who dedicated her life to helping others. So much so that she would often take her vacation days to volunteer for the causes that were dear to her heart," Canada Learning Code CEO Melissa Sariffodeen said Monday in a statement.
MONTREAL - Canada's two largest airlines say they are confident in the safety of the Boeing 737 aircraft after a fatal crash on Sunday involving an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
The accident, which killed all 157 aboard the Boeing 737 Max 8, raised concerns over parallels to the crash of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea last October, killing 189 people.
Air Canada says in an email its 24 Max 8 aircraft have performed "excellently" and met safety and reliability standards. The airline said it has 24 Max 8 aircraft on routes that include Vancouver to Montreal and Calgary to Vancouver.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. tweeted Monday that it is not grounding any of the 13 Max 8s in its fleet of 121 Boeing 737s.
"WestJet remains confident in the safety of our Boeing 737 fleet," spokeswoman Morgan Bell said in an email. The airline is "working with Boeing to ensure the continued safe operation of our Max fleet," she said.
The Calgary-based company has orders for 37 more Boeing 737s on the books.
Sunwing Airlines also has four 737 aircraft, according to civil aircraft registrations.
The unions for Air Canada and WestJet flight crews declined to comment on the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.
-The Canadian Press
Timeline of events
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - The news shattered more than two years of relative calm in Africa's skies. As millions on the continent headed to church on Sunday morning, an Ethiopian Airlines plane took off on a routine flight from Addis Ababa for Nairobi and quickly lost control. Six minutes later, all contact was lost. All 157 people aboard were killed, representing a staggering 35 countries. Here is a timeline of how the day unfolded. All times local.
8:38 a.m.: Flight ET302 takes off from Bole International Airport in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Records shared by Flightradar24 show that the plane's vertical speed quickly becomes erratic.
Shortly afterward: The pilot issues a distress call and is told to return.
8:44 a.m.: Contact with the plane is lost.
10:48 a.m.: The office of Ethiopia's prime minister in a Twitter post gives first word of the crash, offering "deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning."
11:15 a.m.: Ethiopian Airlines says it believes 149 passengers and eight crew members were on board the plane that crashed near Bishoftu, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) outside the capital.
1:35 p.m.: Ethiopia's state broadcaster reports that all passengers are dead.
2:45 p.m.: Ethiopian Airlines publishes a photo of its CEO standing in a crater amid the wreckage. Little of the plane can be seen in the freshly churned earth.
3:30 p.m.: The Ethiopian Airlines CEO and Kenya's transport minister say Canadians, Chinese, Americans and others are among the more than 30 nationalities of victims.
5:35 p.m.: Ethiopian Airlines issues a new list of crash victims that includes 35 nationalities.
6:20 p.m.: As sunset approaches at the site, searchers and a bulldozer continue to pick through the scattered remains of the plane. The bulldozer digs for deeply embedded debris.
6:40 p.m.: Ethiopian Airlines says Ethiopian authorities, plane manufacturer Boeing and other international stakeholders will collaborate on an investigation into the cause of the crash.