Ethiopian attempts to whitewash the Arusha incident


(Posted 20th December 2013)

Following the breaking news here the other day, of an Ethiopian Airlines B767-300ER landing at the wrong airport, numerous attempts were made to whitewash the circumstances, starting with a first statement by the airline that the aircraft had landed at an alternate airport – misleading to say the least as diversion airports for wide bodied aircraft not able to land at Kilimanjaro are Nairobi (NBO) or Dar es Salaam (DAR), not the municipal field in Arusha known as ARK which is built to serve small single and twin engined aircraft and some larger turboprops like the ATR 42 or the ATR 72. Not one aviator since spoken with accepts that ARK could be sensibly described as an alternate airport to land a B767-300ER and every single one, while praising the crew for bringing the aircraft to a standstill, albeit in the grass, doubted the initial sanity of deciding to actually land in Arusha.

Dozens of what clearly appears staff from Ethiopian Airlines then tried to swamp my blog site, identifiable from a common IP address ‘IP:,’, before someone purporting to be the Ethiopian Airlines manager in Kampala rang me, the call terminating probably due to poor signal quality before I could understand what it was all about – he never did call back by the way.

Shortly afterwards came a mail from Ethiopian’s PR department, previously wrapped in total silence when I had good things to report about the airline, and – spelling errors notwithstanding – sent me this:

Start quote:

Dear Prof. Wolfganga Thome,


Ethiopian Airlines would like to refute all unfounded speculations regarding the incident of Ethiopian flight ET-815 from Addis Ababa to Kilimanjaro of 18 December 2013. Such unfounded speculations are against international procedure and practice of incident investigation and communications.

Although Ethiopian Airlines should strictly follow the international procedures and will not make pre-judgmental statements before the incident is fully investigated by relevant and competent authorities, there was miscommunication between the control tower and the flying crew, which resulted in landing at Arusha airport. The aircraft had adequate fuel to fly to an approved alternate airport.

All passengers and crew were unharmed and have been taken to their intended destinations. The aircraft did not sustain any damage.

Ethiopian Airlines would like to apologize to its esteemed passengers for the inconveniences caused.


Ethiopian Airlines Public Relations Office

Public Relation
Public Relations
Ethiopian Airlines, Headquarters, Bole International Airport
Tel: (251-011)517 8407 Cell: Fax:

End Quote

Apologies for the ‘inconvenience’ caused, yes, that surely does it for the passengers whose life has been at risk with this stunt of flying into ARK and not a word to the crew’s failure to get on their maps and ascertain that whatever they thought they were told to do by ATC actually was sound advice, so yes, miscommunication indeed. Definitely, if they were truly told to land at ARK that was NOT sound advice but the unfolding air accident investigation will no doubt unearth all of that, or so it is hoped.

Meanwhile have others of course made their own contributions on the matter and the following piece stood out:

Start Quote:

OK it seems you are all set on what you believe. PLease see the following link.

It has all the latest details including the full stop and attempted turn around in the grass… The eye witness accounts are from very reliable pilot friends of mine who saw the whole thing unfold. I have been working and living in Arusha for many years and I’m getting this information first hand, Like it or not these are the facts.

Incident: Ethiopian B763 at Arusha on Dec 18th 2013, fuel emergency, landing on short runway at wrong airport and runway excursion

By Simon Hradecky, created Wednesday, Dec 18th 2013 20:27Z, last updated Thursday, Dec 19th 2013 09:32ZAn Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-300, registration ET-AQW performing flight ET-815 from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) with 213 people on board, could not land in Kilimanjaro due to a disabled light aircraft on the runway and entered a holding for about 30 minutes. The crew subsequently declared emergency due to low fuel and began the approach to Kilimanjaro’s runway 27 (length 3600 meters/11,800 feet) where the light aircraft was still on the runway near the threshold of runway 09/end of runway 27. The aircraft however touched down on Arusha’s runway 27 (length 1620 meters/5300 feet) at 13:15L (10:15Z) and came to a full stop just prior to the runway end. Subsequently the crew turned the aircraft left for backtracking, the aircraft came to a stop with all gear on soft ground. No injuries occurred, the aircraft received no visible damage.

The airline confirmed the aircraft diverted because a Cessna was disabled on the runway of Kilimanjaro, however, did not explain why the aircraft diverted to Arusha (27nm from Kilimanjaro Airport) with too short a runway rather than diverting to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania, 240nm from Kilimanjaro), Mombasa (Kenya, 154nm from Kilimanjaro) or Nairobi (Kenya, 127nm from Kilimanjaro) featuring suitable runways.

An investigation has been opened into the occurrence.

Ground witnesses report, that the crew managed to bring the aircraft to a full stop just before the end of the runway, but then attempted to maneouver the aircraft to backtrack the runway which is when they went off paved surface.

A listener on frequency reported the aircraft was sent into a holding at Kilimanjaro NDB (KB, 293kHz) southwest of Kilimanjaro Airport and south of Arusha Airport. Arusha’s runway was visible from the holding with the same orientation as Kilimanjaro’s runway (09/27 at 3600 meters length). The crew thus obviously believing to land at Kilimanjaro Airport touched down at Arusha.

Another listener on frequency reported the next day that the crew was advised the Cessna would soon be removed from the runway convincing the crew to remain in the hold. The crew finally called in declaring emergency and reporting that they no longer had sufficient fuel to reach Nairobi, Dar es Salaam or Mombasa (editorial remark: with required minimum fuel reserve remaining intact). Following the emergency the aircraft was cleared to land on Kilimanjaro’s shortened runway 27, the crew was told the Cessna was still on the runway near the threshold of runway 09, the Boeing 767 however did not show up at the airport.

Several passengers reported that after holding they were told they were now approaching Kilimanjaro airport, they would land to the west due to the Cessna still near the western end of the runway. The landing was rough as expected, only then it was discovered that they had landed at the wrong airport. After turning onto the grass they were stuck on the aircraft for about 3.5 hours until stairs arrived from Kilimanjaro Airport, in the meantime some emergency exits were opened to re-introduce some air circulation into the cabin and calm discontent amongst the passengers.

Arusha’s airport said the aircraft landed in Arusha by mistake, they were not supposed to land at Arusha and did not communicate with Arusha tower. The aircraft came to a complete stand still just before the end of the runway but then went off the runway.

Metars Kilimanjaro:
HTKJ 181100Z 09010KT 9999 FEW032CB SCT033 31/17 Q1012 NOSIG
HTKJ 181000Z 09012KT 9999 FEW030CB SCT031 31/17 Q1012 NOSIG
HTKJ 180900Z 09010KT 9999 FEW028SC SCT280 30/18 Q1013 NOSIG

Metars Arusha:
HTAR 181100Z 33010KT 9999 FEW026 FEW027CB 26/15 Q1016
HTAR 181000Z 33015KT 9999 FEW026CB BKN026 26/15 Q1017
HTAR 180900Z 33010KT 9999 FEW026CB SCT026 26/15 Q1018

Metars Nairobi:
HKJK 181200Z 04010KT 9999 FEW027CB BKN028 25/15 Q1017 NOSIG
HKJK 181130Z 07010KT 9999 BKN027 25/14 Q1017 NOSIG
HKJK 181100Z 06012KT 9999 BKN027 24/14 Q1018 NOSIG
HKJK 181030Z 06011KT 9999 BKN027 25/15 Q1018 NOSIG
HKJK 181000Z 05011KT 9999 BKN027 25/14 Q1019 NOSIG
HKJK 180930Z 06010KT 9999 SCT026 24/14 Q1019 NOSIG
HKJK 180900Z 02010KT 9999 SCT026 23/13 Q1020 NOSIG

Metars Mombasa:
HKMO 181300Z 06008KT 9999 FEW027 31/24 Q1007 NOSIG
HKMO 181200Z 07012KT 9999 SCT027 31/24 Q1007 NOSIG
HKMO 181100Z 35005KT 9999 SCT027 33/21 Q1008 NOSIG
HKMO 181000Z 33015KT 9999 FEW025CB BKN026TCU 32/23 Q1010 NOSIG
HKMO 180900Z 34010KT 9999 FEW025CB BKN026TCU 31/23 Q1011 NOSIG

End Quote

Ethiopian is now left with the proverbial egg all over their face, as none of their information they have since peddled holds much water, and of course they made the paramount mistake of getting entangled with the media in an argument they simply cannot win, not even with the help of dozens of sycophants serving as mouthpieces for their masters.

The attacks, some of them of a very personal nature, remind me of similar waves of comments when I reported about the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia and the devastating consequences for Lake Turkana – in both cases not a credit to Ethiopia and in this case clearly not a credit to Ethiopian Airlines, whether they were aware of these attempts to ‘defend’ their company or not.

And in closing I say again, as I said on every turn, the crew did an astonishing piece of airmanship when landing that bird on a runway far too short without crashing it, but then again, they made a grave error of judgment of landing at ARK in the first place, unless of course, they absolutely HAD TO which would bring us back to the initial suspicions voiced and questions asked. I cannot wait to get the preliminary and then the final report on this incident to see who has to eat the humble-pie, and as a wild guess, it is not going to be me.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa.

8 Responses

  1. Ethiopian has a great history behind it. Therefore, we cannot understand why it has to be so defensive in this situation, as its email above shows. If pilot error were made, say it out. We would say it is very unusual for Ethiopian and move on picking up the appropriate lesson.

    In other words, Ethiopian management could have saved its response (above) to the professor to a later date. The appropriate occasion could have been when it has outcome of the investigation of what forced it into the grass in its hand and is consistent with its claim.

    In this situation, if the outcome turns out to be different – as the professor has put it – Ethiopian has opened itself to the bad eggs to smudge its face.

    Our fear is that the Ethiopian email response seems to have all the makings and smell of political Ethiopia, which is rush to say anything that seems to give it plausible deniability and with no scruples in always assuming itself to be in possession of the truth.

    On a separate matter, what we find equally unusual for Ethiopian is why B767-300ER was unmarked and in service. The international community has unease about such unmarked international passenger flight , having taken lessons from what happened by unmarked planes engaged in ‘rendition missions’.

    Incidentally, B767-300ER being unmarked first caught the attention of Richard Bodin’s camera and a passenger in that flight, who sent the single comment to the first story on Prof. Wolfgang Thome’s page.

    We still do not know the cause or reason for that nakedness and we hope Ethiopian to come with an answer for that!

    1. Thanks for reading my blog and for making such refreshing comments, after all the vitriolic broadsides over the past days. Many companies, Ethiopian included, still appear to be almost entirely alien to the concept of the social media and the spread of news, both in terms of speed and in terms of expert readers. You are right, had ET responded in the right fashion, much embarrassment could have been spare for them. Now, there are thousands more readers who read their response and my reaction than there were on the initial article. That said, my sentiments were echoed in the Tanzanian local print media too and I wonder if ET has treated them to the same offensive of staff generated counter comments and a press release to them like I got.
      Again, I appreciate your insight and thoughtful reaction.

      1. Cheers Dr Wolfgang,

        It was indeed quite a challenge, given all the automatic filtering that takes place on that particular website.

        I’m still wondering whether the same pilot who landed in ARK was the one who made that takeoff too. If so, then perhaps Boeing ought to consider recruiting him as a test pilot…

      2. Hi Dr. Wolfgang,

        I hadn’t yet read your article about the reopening when I wrote my earlier comment. In case people think that it was I who was in Arusha recording that video, it would be better to also recognise that it was from “Kaduguda” as per the YouTube signature.

        Salaams, David.

        Sent from my iPad


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