As alarms sounded in their cockpit, the captain and first officer struggled to regain control of their stricken aircraft.
They were far too close to the ground, and needed to gain altitude. Yet when Capt Yared Getachew tried to guide the nose of the Boeing 737 upwards, an electronic system forced it down again.
Simply pulling back on his control column wasn’t enough. So he used a thumb switch as well, to adjust the aerodynamic balance of the plane, and encourage it to climb. But a few seconds later, those adjustments were automatically reversed.
The column was shaking in his hands, a mechanical warning that the aircraft was in danger of stalling and falling out of the sky. A harsh robotic voice called out “don’t sink” three times, indicating that the plane was losing height.
Together, he and First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed Omar worked quickly to find a solution. They flicked switches on the centre console to disable part of the electronics, and began using manual controls instead, in an attempt to make the plane fly normally.
Capt Yared Getachew (right)
Regaining control was difficult. By now the aircraft was gathering speed, and aerodynamic forces were building rapidly; it’s likely they had simply become too great for the pilots to fight against using manual controls.
Whatever the reason, they turned the electronics back on and Capt Getachew tried once more to raise the nose of the aircraft, using the thumb switch on his controls. With power assistance restored, the aircraft responded. Briefly it began to climb.
But then, inexorably, the process was reversed as the computers intervened yet again. Another alarm was now chirping urgently, warning that the speed of the plane had become dangerously high, as it began to dive towards the ground.
In desperation, Capt Getachew called on his co-pilot for help. Together, they hauled back on their control columns, using their combined strength, in a last-ditch effort to overcome the forces arrayed against them with sheer muscle power.
The dive became steeper and steeper, and the aircraft fell faster and faster, until it slammed into the ground at more than 500mph, just six minutes after taking off.