Mon | Oct 14, 2019

Whistleblower claims Ethiopian Airlines went into records after deadly crash

Published:Monday | October 7, 2019 | 1:32 PM
In this March 11, 2019, file photo, wreckage is piled at the crash scene of an Ethiopian Airlines flight crash outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — Ethiopian Airlines’ former chief engineer says in a whistleblower complaint filed with regulators that the carrier went into the maintenance records on a Boeing 737 Max jet a day after it crashed this year.

Yonas Yeshanew, who resigned this summer and is seeking asylum in the United States, contends that the breach was part of a pattern of corruption that included fabricating documents, signing off on shoddy repairs and even beating those who got out of line.

Yeshanew said that while it is unclear what, if anything, in the records were altered, the decision to go into them at all when they should have been sealed reflects a government-owned airline with few boundaries and plenty to hide.

“The brutal fact shall be exposed ... Ethiopian Airlines is pursuing the vision of expansion, growth and profitability by compromising safety,” Yeshanew said in his report, which he gave to The Associated Press after sending it last month to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other international air safety agencies.

Yeshanew’s criticism of Ethiopian’s maintenance practices, backed by three other former employees who spoke to AP, makes him the latest voice urging investigators to take a closer look at potential human factors in the Max saga and not just focus on Boeing’s faulty anti-stall system, which has been blamed in two crashes in four months.

Ethiopian Airlines portrayed Yeshanew as a disgruntled former employee and categorically denied his allegations, which paint a blistering counterpoint to the perception of the airline as one of Africa’s most successful companies and a source of national pride.

For the 39-year-old Yeshanew, the decision to become a whistleblower has come at a heavy price. He is leaving behind relatives and a job that he called “the dream of my life,” one with prestige and a big enough salary for him to buy a three-story house. He is not sure of what kind of job he can get in the U.S., or if he will even be granted asylum.

Ultimately, he said, he has dreams of returning to his native Ethiopia and even going back to work at Ethiopian Airlines.

“I have to reveal the truth, the reality to the world so that the airline will be fixed,” he said, “because it can’t continue like what it is doing now.”

The Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashed in March killing all 157 people on board.

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