The plane overflew the runway at cruising altitude (Credit: FlightRadar24)
An investigation has begun into the circumstances that led an Ethiopian Airline aircraft to overfly its airport of destination despite flying with an Instrument Landing System, ILS, the flight was on onto pilot but failed to descend at the threshold and flew past the runway.
The Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737-800, with registration number ET-AOB and flight number ET-343 from Khartoum (Sudan) to Bole international airport, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), was en route at FL370 when the pilots were suspected to be oblivious of their position.
According to the log from the Control Tower, Bole international airport, the aircraft continued past the top of the descent, maintaining FL370 and continued along the FMC route set up for an approach to runway 25L without descending.
Air Traffic Controller, ATC, on shift reported that several spirited efforts made to contact and prompt the crew for situational awareness and adjustment accordingly proved futile.
However, after overflying runway 25L at FL370, the autopilot disconnected, and the disconnection wailer was believed to have jolted the crew to situational awareness, which was about 20 minutes after the aircraft overflew its airport of destination.
When it was obvious the crew had awakened from whatever wrongly engaged them in the cockpit, the Pilots manoeuvred the aircraft for a safe landing on runway 25L about 30 minutes after it overflew the runway at FL370.
Moreover, a check with the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, ADS-B, data confirmed the information, and it showed that the aircraft maintained FL370 until after overflying the runway before the aircraft began to descend and manoeuvred for another approach.
In a very terse media statement on the verified Twitter handle of Ethiopian Airlines, the management acknowledged the incident. It further said that both pilots have been suspended pending further investigation. It added that appropriate action will be taken based on the outcome of the investigation.
ET posted on Twitter, “The concerned crew have been removed from operation pending further investigation. Appropriate corrective action will be taken based on the outcome of the investigation. Safety has always been and will continue to be our first priority.”
A mail sent to Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, EAIB, for an update on the incident, was merely acknowledged but an official response in that regard is yet to be received.
A cross-section of people fingered the flight time as fraught with drowsiness which probably influenced the cockpit crew. The less than two hours flight departed from Khartoum at a little after 03:00 hours in the wee hours of the day. And if perchance the cockpit crew already was sleep deprived, such a boring flight over dark territory can be a problem waiting to happen.
Another contributor undermines the temptation to conclude that both pilots were asleep. She said until reliable evidence from a cockpit record/flight recorder to see exactly what happened is re-enacted.
She further explained that there are lots of factors apart from sleep that could be responsible for “loss of communication in flight”.
The contributor further declared, “there are other factors besides transponders active. Besides this is a highly advanced A/C that barely needs crew inputs. A very highly respected and well-credited airline deserves well-documented, and concrete evidence to report. Let’s allow some time for our work before publication”.
Another school of thought fired a rhetorical question about whether an erotic affair in the cockpit couldn’t be responsible for such total oblivion to all the promptings from the control tower.
As the sub-headline says, these notions are nothing but conjectures. We patiently await the outcome of the investigation which would serve as an object lesson, especially for airline operators