Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing crashes killing 157

A Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 crashed minutes after an early-morning takeoff from Addis Ababa Sunday, killing all eight crew and 149 passengers on board, including tourists, business travellers, and at least one delegate to a UN meeting.

Amid a global stream of condolences, many gathered in tears at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), as the victims’ identities started to emerge.

“It is with deep sorrow that I announce that my dear wife, Blanka, son Martin and daughter Michala, died in the air disaster in Addis Ababa this morning,” Slovak MP Anton Hrnko wrote on Facebook.

People from 35 countries and one UN passport-holder were on board flight ET 302 when it ploughed into a field 60km southeast of Addis Ababa on what the airline’s CEO Tewolde GebreMariam labelled a “very sad and tragic day”.

An eyewitness said the plane came down in flames.

“The plane was already on fire when it crashed to the ground. The crash caused a big explosion,” Tegegn Dechasa recounted at the site, littered with passenger belongings, human remains, and airplane parts around a massive crater at the point of impact.

“I was near the river near the crash site. Shortly after the crash police and a fire crew from a nearby air force camp came and extinguished the plane’s flames on the ground,” Dechasa said.

“The plane was in flames in its rear side shortly before the crash. The plane was swerving erratically before the crash.”

The Boeing 737-800MAX was brand new, delivered to state-owned Ethiopian Airways on November 15, said the carrier, Africa’s largest.

The plane is the same type as the Indonesian Lion Air jet that crashed last October, 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

Foreign governments said tourists, business people, doctors, and a Kenyan football official were among the dead.

Also on board was at least one staff member of the UN Environment Programme meeting in Nairobi from Monday for an annual assembly of 4 700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and civil society representatives.

“As many of you have already heard, at least one of our colleagues is unaccounted for,” UNEP acting head Joyce Msuya said in a message to staff, adding more losses are feared.

Holding out hope

Ethipian Airlines said the plane had taken off at 8.38am from Bole International Airport and “lost contact” six minutes later.

It came down near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu.

The carrier, which changed its logo on Twitter to black and white from its trademark green, yellow, and red, said “there are no survivors”.

“We can only hope that she is not on that flight,” Peter Kimani, who had come to fetch his sister at Nairobi’s JKIA, said after news of the disaster reached those waiting in the arrivals hall.

Loved ones were later brought to the onsite Sheraton Hotel where they were debriefed and offered counselling. Journalists were not allowed in, but could hear sobbing from inside.


A passenger safety instruction card is seen at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)

Ethiopian Airlines said Kenya had the largest number of casualties with 32, followed by Canada with 18, Ethiopia nine, then Italy, China, and the United States with eight each.

Britain and France each had seven people on board, Egypt six, and Germany five.

Twelve countries in Africa and 14 in Europe had citizens among the victims.

African Union commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat spoke of “utter shock and immense sadness”, while Mahboub Maalim, executive secretary of the IGAD East African bloc, said the region and the world were in mourning.

“I cannot seem to find words comforting enough to the families and friends of those who might have lost their lives in this tragedy,” Maalim said in a statement.

Sympathy messages also came from the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Britain and Germany.

Pilot ‘difficulties’ 

GebreMariam said the plane had flown in from Johannesburg earlier Sunday, spent three hours in Addis and was “despatched with no remark”, meaning no problems were flagged.

Asked if the pilot had made a distress call, the CEO said “the pilot mentioned that he had difficulties and he wants to return. He was given clearance” to turn around.

The senior captain, Yared Getachew, had some 8 000 flight hours under his belt.

Ethiopian and American investigators will probe the crash, said GebreMariam.

The last major accident involving an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was a Boeing 737-800 that exploded after taking off from Lebanon in 2010, killing 83 passengers and seven crew.

For one family member waiting in Nairobi there was a happy ending.

Khalid Ali Abdulrahman was waiting for his son who works in Dubai and feared the worst when a security official told him the plane had 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.”

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Chris Stein
Chris Stein
@AFP journalist covering Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and the African Union.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC...

Former president Thabo Mbeki rged business and government and society to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment and poor services and infrastructure

South Africa needs to make pension system more inclusive, study...

South Africa’s pension system is ranked 31st out of 43 countries, receiving a C-grade which indicates major risks and shortcomings that should be addressed

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×