All 157 passengers aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight — which crashed soon after takeoff Sunday morning — were killed, according to the airline, CNN reports. The flight left Bole International Airport in Ethiopia on its way to Nairobi, Kenya, when contact was lost about six minutes following takeoff.
The airline has reported that the plane, flight number ET302, was a Boeing 737 MAX 8. A spokesperson also stated that passengers represented 35 different nationalities and included individuals from Kenya, Canada, Ethiopia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Separately, a Chinese embassy spokesperson indicated that there were eight Chinese passengers on board.
Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of the airline, held a press conference, in which he shared with reporters that the pilot had quickly reported technical problems and requested permission to turn back to the airport. Per records from air traffic control, permission was granted, but the pilot was unable to successfully bring the plane back for a safe landing. It was not immediately clear whether the crash took place prior to a landing attempt or during one. GebreMariam said he had visited the site as smoke continued to clear.
“As it is a fresh incident, we have not been able to determine the cause. As I said, it is a brand new airplane with no technical remarks, flown by a senior pilot and there is no cause that we can attribute at this time,” he said. “The routine maintenance check didn’t reveal any problems.”
The airline, through GebreMariam, said that the pilot was experienced, with more than 8,000 flight hours and a strong flying record.
Reporters asked about the possibility of terrorism or sabotage. While that possibility has not been ruled out, there is, at the time of writing, no evidence that either is the case.
Fueling speculation as to possible causes of the tragedy is the fact that the airplane, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, is the same model that crashed last year on an Indonesian Lion Air flight that went down soon after takeoff in Jakarta. That crash killed 189 passengers.
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GebreMariam did acknowledge that both crashes involved the same type of plane but was clear that further investigation was needed before suggesting any further conclusions.
Ethiopian Airlines itself has a strong reputation for safety and is widely considered one of the best airlines in Africa.
“Ethiopian Airlines is a very, very well-run airline,” said Richard Quest, a CNN anchor who focuses on aviation. “There is no safety issue on Ethiopian. They’ve made it their business to be the African airline that operates like a western airline.”