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UPDATE 3-Ethiopia Airlines crash report focuses on Boeing's faulty systems

Giulia Paravicini

* Addis Ababa links crash to Boeing's automated system

* Accident killed 157 people in 2019

* Report makes no mention of pilot issues

* Boeing has grounded 737 MAX fleet after two crashes (Updates with Boeing statement, comment)

ADDIS ABABA, March 9 (Reuters) - Faulty systems on a Boeing 737 MAX plane were singled out in Ethiopian investigators' interim report on last year's Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people, pressuring the U.S. manufacturer on the eve of the disaster's anniversary.

The accident, following the 2018 crash of the same model plane in Indonesia killing 189 people, led to the grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX worldwide, wiped billions off the company's value and sparked hundreds of lawsuits from bereaved families.

Monday's report identified no issues with the airline or pilots' handling of the brand new 737 MAX which crashed shortly after take-off.

Inaccurate sensor readings activated the MCAS anti-stall system that pointed the plane's nose down as pilots struggled to right it, the report said. Moments before impact, the plane was pointing down 40 degrees and hurtling to the ground at more than 500 feet per second.

"Most of the wreckage was found buried in the ground," it said.

The detailed interim report http://www.aib.gov.et/wp-content/uploads/2020/documents/accident/ET-302%20%20Int e r i m % 2 0 I n v e s t i g a t i o n % 2 0 % 2 0 R e p o r t % 2 0 M a r c h % 2 0 9 % 2 0 2 0 2 0 . p d f bolstered the findings of Ethiopia's initial assessment, which linked the crash to a Boeing automated system. It said two sensors recording the plane's angle - known as the "angle of attack" or AOA - differed in readings by 59 degrees.

"The left AOA values were erroneous and reached 74.5o," the report said.

The Ethiopian interim report contrasted with a final report into the Lion Air crash by Indonesia which faulted Boeing's design of cockpit software on the 737 MAX but also cited errors by airline workers and crew.

Ethiopian authorities did not release the report at a press conference, and neither the Ministry of Transport nor the airline answered calls seeking comment.

In a short statement, Boeing reiterated condolences to relatives and said it looked forward to seeing full details and formal recommendations in Ethiopia's final report.

"Boeing continues to provide technical assistance in support of the investigation, at the request of and under the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board," it said.

"MOMENT OF GRIEF"

Passengers from 33 nations had been aboard the plane and families from many nations gathered in the capital of Addis Ababa ahead of a memorial at the crash site on Tuesday.

Some welcomed the report, but others said they were too consumed by grief to read it.

"We wish the report had come earlier or after this moment as we are now in a moment of grief, and want to focus on remembering our loved ones," said Zekarias Asfaw Shankut, 42, who lost his brother. "Now it is actually a distraction."

The Ethiopian report did not mention any errors by the pilots, merely noting they were trained, fully certified and medically cleared to fly. It criticised Boeing for "inadequate" training for pilots flying the new model because it had not included scenarios where MCAS was erroneously activated.

The report ratifies safety recommendations already underway, including modifications to the sensor architecture and anti-stall MCAS software. Boeing only recently endorsed the call for more costly simulator training after holding out for months in favour of computer-based training.

The U.S. House Transportation Committee on Friday faulted the country's Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) approval of the plane and Boeing's design failures, saying the 737 MAX flights were "doomed".

Boeing's statement on Monday contrasted with its stance at the same stage of the Lion Air investigation, when it raised questions over the performance of the airline and its pilots, drawing widespread accusations of complacency.

Since the Ethiopian accident, the focus of global regulators has shifted towards problems in the jet's design.

Some industry experts have questioned certain aspects of the pilots' handling of flight ET302 while acknowledging they were grappling with overwhelming physical forces and flawed control software. The airline strongly denies any pilot error.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. aviation authorities and no clear indication from Ethiopia when the final report might be released. (Writing by Katharine Houreld; Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, David Shepardson in Washington and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)