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Ethiopian airlines crash: Experts look at possible causes

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The plane was carrying 90 people, including 83 passengers and 7 crew, said Ghazi Aridi, the public works and transportation minister. He identified the passengers as 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Canadian of Lebanese origin, one Russian of Lebanese origin, a French woman and two Britons of Lebanese origin.

The Boeing 737 is considered one of the safest planes in airline service. The jet was first introduced in the 1960s, and today is the workhorse on many short- and medium-range routes.

Still, over the past 15 years it was involved in a series of incidents and crashes linked to a valve in the rudder assembly. This reportedly would malfunction and cause the rudder to turn independently of the pilot’s commands.

The problem was considered resolved after operators of older Boeing 737s were ordered to carry out inspections and upgrades of the critical rudder control systems.

Sidney Dekker, a professor of flight safety at the School of Aviation at Lund University in Sweden, said the rudder problem has been corrected by the manufacturer and that he’d be “hugely surprised” if it had anything to do with the crash.

Mr. Dekker, himself a 737 pilot, said that if reports of an engine fire proved to be correct, the accident could have possibly resulted from a loss of control at relatively low altitude.

He noted that the 737’s engines were overpowered in order to fulfill single-engine takeoff performance requirements. “This tends to produce a turning movement toward the dead engine in the case of the loss of a powerplant at takeoff,” he said.

Poor visibility in low cloud combined with high winds may have contributed to the problem faced by the pilots, he said.

Aviation safety analyst Chris Yates said it was far too early to say what caused the crash, but he noted that modern aircraft are built to withstand all but the foulest weather conditions.

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