Ethiopian Airlines flight crash: 157 people dead

Ethiopian Airlines flight crash: 157 people dead

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An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just after takeoff, killing all 157 thought to be on board
USA TODAY

Eight Americans were among the 157 people killed when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff from the capital of Addis Ababa on Sunday. 

The 4-month-old Boeing 737-8 MAX plane crashed six minutes after departing on its way to Nairobi, Kenya, plowing into the ground at 8:44 a.m. local time, 31 miles south of Addis Ababa.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The pilot sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return, the airline’s CEO told reporters.

The plane had routine maintenance on Feb. 4 and had flown just 1,200 hours, the airline’s CEO said. The pilot had nine years of seniority with the airline. Overall, the airline’s safety record had been on par with other major world airlines. 

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At least 35 nationalities – including 32 Kenyans and 18 Canadians – are among the dead, the airline said. The plane was carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members.

At least one of the passengers was carrying a United Nations passport, and the U.N. World Food Programme confirmed that multiple staffers were among those killed.

“The WFP family mourns today,” executive director David Beasley said. “We will do all that is humanly possible to help the families at this painful time.”

With a motto of “The New Spirit of Africa,” the government-owned airline is Africa’s largest and has been aggressively expanding on the continent. It just inaugurated a a new terminal at its hub in Addis Ababa in January, tripling its capacity.

The airline serves 61 cities in Africa and 45 more worldwide, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C, and Newark, N.J. It is a member of Star Alliance, giving it terminal and code-sharing agreements with partners like United Airlines, Air Canada and Lufthansa. 

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The airline said 149 passengers and eight crew members were thought to be on the plane. Kenyans, Canadians, Chinese, Americans, Ethiopians, Italians, French, British, Egyptians, Indians, Slovakians and others were among the dead, said the airline’s CEO.

The airline’s website crashed briefly on Sunday as the airline tried to notify families of the dead.

Ethiopian Airlines published a photo of CEO Tewolde Gebremariam standing in what appeared to be a crater caused by the crash, holding a piece of the wreckage. The photo shows the crash site to be on flat land with blue skies above, and weather reports indicated clear visibility. 

“Tewolde Gebremariam, who is at the accident scene now, regrets to confirm that there are no survivors,” the post on social media said. “He expresses his profound sympathy and condolences to the families and loved ones of passengers and crew who lost their lives in this tragic accident.”

The Ethiopian prime minister’s office offered its “deepest condolences” to families. “My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board,” Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

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As worried families gathered at the airport in Nairobi, the scope of the tragedy slowly became clear.

“I came to the airport to receive my brother but I have been told there is a problem,” Agnes Muilu said. “I just pray that he is safe or he was not on it.”

”Why are they taking us round and round, it is all over the news that the plane crashed,” said Edwin Ong’undi, who had been waiting for his sister. “All we are asking for is information to know about their fate.”

The Boeing 737 is the most popular airline passenger plane in the world; 9,600 have been built since 1967.

The new MAX 8 configuration – a single-aisle plane with room for up to 210 passengers – was certified for flight by U.S. and European regulators just two years ago.

It now has two major crashes on its record. Last October, the same model plane operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people on board were killed.  

In a statement, Boeing said it was “deeply saddened” to hear of the crash and that a technical team was ready to provide assistance at the request of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is sending a team of four investigators to Ethiopia, said spokesman Eric Weiss.

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority is primarily responsible for the investigation but the NTSB often provides technical assistance when an aircraft designed or manufactured in the United States is involved in a major crash anywhere in the world.

The last deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was in 2010, when an earlier-generation 737 crashed crashed minutes after takeoff from Beirut, killing all 90 people on board. The Lebanese Aviation Authority blamed crew error, but the airline disputed the findings and said there was an explosion before the crash.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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