By ELIAS MESERET and ANGELA CHARLTON Associated Press
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — As investigators in Paris started studying the cockpit voice recorder of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet Saturday, grieving family members were given sacks of dirt to bury in place of the remains of their loved ones.
The French air accident investigation agency BEA tweeted Saturday that technical work on the recorder began. The BEA also said work resumed on the flight’s data recorders.
An Ethiopian relative of a crash victim throws dirt in her own face after realising that there is nothing physical left of her loved one, as she mourns at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia Thursday, March 14, 2019. About 200 family members of people who died on the crashed jet stormed out of a briefing with Ethiopian Airlines officials in Addis Ababa on Thursday, complaining that the airline has not given them adequate information. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)
The recorders, also known as black boxes, were sent to France because the BEA has extensive expertise in analyzing such devices. Experts from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the plane’s manufacturer Boeing are among those involved in the investigation.
In Ethiopia, officials have begun delivering bags of earth to family members of the 157 victims of the crash instead of the remains of their loved ones because the identification process is going to take such a long time.
Family members are being give a 1 kilogram (2.2 pound) sack of scorched earth taken from the crash sites, said two family members. An Ethiopian government official confirmed this. All insisted upon anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
“The soil came as it became impossible to identify bodies and hand over remains to family members,” one family member said. “We will not rest until we are given the real body or body parts of our loved ones.”
Forensic DNA work has begun on identifying the remains but it may take six months to identify the victims’ remains, because the bodies are in small pieces. However authorities say they will issue death certificates within two weeks. The victims of the crash came from 35 countries.
A mass memorial service for the dead is planned in Addis Ababa to take place Sunday, one week after the crash. Muslim families have already held prayers for the dead and are anxious to have something to bury as soon as possible.
The Ethiopian disaster and a crash last year in Indonesia were both of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. The United States and many other countries have grounded the Max 8s as the U.S.-based company faces the challenge of proving the jets are safe to fly amid suspicions that faulty sensors and software contributed to the two crashes that killed 346 people in less than six months.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said regulators had new data from satellite-based tracking that showed the movements of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were similar to those of Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.
Both planes flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Shortly after their takeoffs, both crews tried to return to the airports but crashed.
Boeing said it supports the grounding of its planes as a precautionary step, while reiterating “full confidence” in their safety. Engineers are making changes to the system designed to prevent an aerodynamic stall if sensors detect that the jet’s nose is pointed too high and its speed is too slow.
Investigators looking into the Indonesian crash are examining whether the software automatically pushed the plane’s nose down repeatedly, and whether the Lion Air pilots knew how to solve that problem. Ethiopian Airlines says its pilots received special training on the software.
Charlton reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Dave Koenig in Houston and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed.
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