An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet to Nairobi crashed early on Sunday with 149 passengers and eight crew members aboard, the airline said, and there were no survivors, according to the state broadcaster.
It is understood passengers from 33 countries were onboard the jet.
The flight left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8.38 am local time, before losing contact with the control tower just a few minutes later at 8.44 am.
“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.
Flight ET 302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62 kilometres southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, the airline said, adding that the plane was a Boeing 737-800 MAX, 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.
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.”
Seven Britons were among the 157 people killed, Kenya’s transport secretary James Macharia has said.
The Ethiopian prime minister’s office sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash.
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.
Its last major crash was in January 2010, when a flight from Beirut went down shortly after take-off.
In October, 189 people lost their lives after a Boeing 737-800 MAX crashed into the sea off Jakarta, Indonesia.
The brand new jet, flying for LionAir, plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from the Indonesian capital.
While Boeing refused to comment on whether there will be an investigation into the model or if any planes will be recalled, a spokesperson for the aerospace company told the Independent.ie that they are prepared to dispatch a technical team to assist with the Ethiopian airline crash.
“Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane,” he said.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team.
“A Boeing technical team is prepared to provide technical assistance at the request and under the direction of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”
Additional reporting: PA and Reuters
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