An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet to Nairobi crashed on Sunday (March 10) with 149 passengers and eight crew members aboard, the airline said, and there were no survivors, according to the state broadcaster.
The flight left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8.38am local time, before losing contact with the control tower just a few minutes later at 8.44am.
“There are no survivors onboard the flight, which carried passengers from 33 countries,” said state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, quoting an unidentified source at the airline.
Chinese state TV said eight Chinese passengers were aboard the plane. CCTV said on a social media site that “eight Chinese citizens were aboard” Flight ET 302.
Flight ET 302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62km south-east of Addis Ababa, the airline said, adding that the plane was a Boeing 737-800 Max with the registration number ET-AVJ.
That model number does not exist however and multiple aviation websites later identified the plane as a new 737 MAX 8, the same plane that crashed in Indonesia in October, killing 189.
“Search and rescue operations are in progress and we have no confirmed information about survivors or any possible casualties,” the airline said in a statement.
The flight had unstable vertical speed after take off, said flight tracking website Flightradar24 on its Twitter feed.
The Ethiopian prime minister’s official Twitter account expressed condolences to the families of those lost in the flight.
The Office of the PM, on behalf of the Government and people of Ethiopia, would like to express it’s deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning.
“The office of the PM, on behalf of government and people of Ethiopia, would like to express it’s deepest condolences to the families that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning,” the PM’s office said on Twitter.
At Nairobi airport, many relatives of passengers were waiting at the gate, with no information from airport authorities.
“We’re just waiting for my mum. We’re just hoping she took a different flight or was delayed. She’s not picking up her phone,” said Wendy Otieno, clutching her phone and weeping.
Robert Mutanda, 46, was waiting for his brother-in-law coming from Canada.
“No, we haven’t seen anyone from the airline or the airport,” he told Reuters at 1pm, more than three hours after the flight was lost. “Nobody has told us anything, we are just standing here hoping for the best.”
One relative, Khalid Ali Abdulrahman, however, received happy news about his son, who works in Dubai.
“I arrived here shortly after 10am and as I waited, a security person approached me and asked me which flight are you waiting for. I answered him quickly because I wanted him to direct me to the arrivals, so I told him Ethiopia, and then he said: ‘Sorry, that one has crashed’.”
“I was shocked, but shortly after, my son contacted me and told me he is still in Addis and did not board that flight, he is waiting for the second one which has been delayed,” Khalid told AFP.
On Oct 29, a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed into the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The plane is the latest version of the 737 family, the world’s best selling modern passenger aircraft and one of the industry’s most reliable.
State-owned Ethiopian is one of the biggest carriers on the continent by fleet size. It said previously that it expected to carry 10.6 million passengers last year.
The airline’s last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after take-off.