An Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed Sunday morning, killing all 157 passengers and crew onboard, the second tragedy in five months involving Boeing’s 737 Max jets.
The aircraft that was enroute to Nairobi from Addis Ababa came down at Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) area barely six minutes after taking off from Bole International Airport. It was carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members.
32 of those who died were Kenyans, accounting for the highest casualty figures. The Flight ET302 was carrying passengers from 35 countries. Canada suffered the second highest casualties as there were 18 citizens on board the ill-fated aircraft. Among the dead were four UN staff.
Ethiopian Airlines, regarded as Africa’s biggest carrier, had received the brand new 737-800MAX aircraft four months ago. The airline makes four daily flights to Nairobi and two daily trips to Mombasa.
Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement that the aircraft "took off at 8:38am local time from Addis Ababa, Bole International Airport, and lost contact at 08:44am". It took off hours after arriving from a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.
The airline's statement came shortly after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent a message of condolences on Twitter. Mr Ahmed said: "The office of the PM, on behalf of the Government and people of Ethiopia, would like to express its 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."
Kenya set-up two emergency centres at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for relatives of passengers in the crashed aircraft to receive information on their loved ones. Ethiopian Airlines set up similar centres in Addis Ababa and Nairobi.
Among those who sent condolences was Kenya Civil Aviation Authority director-general Gilbert Kibe, who said the ill-fated lost contact with Addis only six minutes after take-off. "Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the crew and passengers who have lost their lives," he said in a statement.
Briefing the press, Transport Secretary James Macharia said the ministry was waiting for the flight manifest (list of passengers and crew) before it could give further updates. "We are aware that there is a lot of anxiety but we request your indulgence in terms of being patient as we wait for this information," he said in his first briefing.
Sunday's tragedy comes barely five months after a similar model belonging to an Indonesian budget carrier, Lion Air, dived into Java Sea an hour and 12 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board. Preliminary investigations, according to Boeing Co, indicated that that Lion Air Flight 610 experienced erroneous readings from a flight-monitoring system causing the plane to dive without warning.
Boeing had made the delivery of the plane to Lion Air Group, its launch customer, in March last year after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded the manufacturer an amended type certificate for the 737 MAX 9.
A month earlier, FAA had officially certified the airplane for commercial service. The certification affirmed the airplane’s handling, systems and overall performance all complied with aviation regulations.
In 2014, Ethiopian Airlines ordered 20 Boeing 737 Max jets in a deal worth over $2.1 billion at list prices. Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, said the order underlined the airline’s commitment to its 15-year strategic plan, in which the carrier sought to become Africa’s leading airline group, carrying 18 million passengers per year.
Boeing had delivered over 200 737 Max planes by end of last year. The over 50 customers of Boeing 787-Max, who have so far placed over 5,000 orders to date, includes Qatar Airways, Turkish Airline, Fly Dubai, Ryanair and China Southern Airlines. Boeing yesterday said it was "aware of the airplane accident and is closely monitoring the situation."