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We mapped where Ethiopian Airlines might have lost its Boeing 737

This is the second 737 to go down in five months, after Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea about 12 minutes after taking off from Jakarta.

People watch workers at the crash site of a Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines flight near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 10 March 2019. Picture: AFP

PRETORIA - Eyewitness News might have geolocated where the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 went down - which shows it could have been further off course than is being reported, and that the pilot may have had difficulty turning the plane around.

The Boeing 737 Max crashed on Sunday, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. This is the second 737 to go down in five months after Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea about 12 minutes after taking off from Jakarta.

International media reported that the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft went down near the town of Bishoftu, about 30 km south-east of the capital. However, photographs taken at the scene and comparing them to satellite images on Google Earth shows the crash site was not near Bishoftu, and placed the aircraft further off course than initially believed.

To start, it’s helpful to look at the flight path used by aircraft on the Addis Ababa to Nairobi route. The usual flight path saw the aircraft department Bole and almost immediately enter a long right turn to start heading south. What must be noted is that the flight path was west of both the mountain and even further west of Bishoftu.

The FlightRadar details of ET302 showed that after taking off, the aircraft did not make the expected right turn, instead, it continued straight until the last known position was recorded at 8:41 am. That last recorded position was directly north of the mountain and heading in an easterly direction.

Several maps used by media houses that depict the location of crash site have recorded it as going down near the town of Bishoftu, which is about 30km south-east of Addis.

Using two pictures of the scene, EWN searched Google Earth to try and identify the location of the crash site. What stood out was the road with two bends in it, and undulating, green hills nearby. However, the features depicted in the pictures could not be found near the town of Bishoftu, as was reported.

An area was located considerable distance from the town of Bishoftu. First, using an aerial photo of the scene, EWN matched it to Google Earth using the correct orientation. What's clearly visible was the road with the two bends in it, while the fields borders match up.

Next is the photo of a guard standing near the crash site. Behind him are hills which show three distinct peaks before the hill tapers off. Changing the perspective on Google Earth to get as low to the ground as possible and then looking towards the hills, the peaks match up.

What this reveals is that the aircraft was further off course than what was being reported. The available flight data showed the aircraft that was supposed to start turning soon after taking off, continue flying in a straight direction. The plane took off at 8:38am local time and was last recorded by FlightRadar at 8:41 am. The crash has reportedly been recorded as happening at 8:44 am, six minutes after taking off.

The location of the crash site suggested the pilot may have been struggling to turn back to Addis as he had requested.

Investigators have found both the voice and flight data recorders which will now be studied, assuming they are not damaged. Further details and a clearer picture of what led to this tragedy will hopefully soon emerge.

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