Ethiopian Airlines Flight to Nairobi Crashes, Killing 157 - Including Two Israelis

'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

Rescue team collect bodies in bags amid debris at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019
Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet to Nairobi crashed early on Sunday with 149 passengers, including two Israelis, and eight crew members aboard, the airline said, and there were no survivors, according to the state broadcaster.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms that two Israeli citizens were among the 157 people killed in an Ethiopian Airlines crash outside Addis Ababa.

Netanyahu's office said he spoke with Israeli envoys who briefed him with details. Netanyahu says in a statement that "our hearts go out to their families."

More than 30 nationalities were among the victims. The plane was likely carrying people set to attend a major United Nations environmental conference in Nairobi.

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. 

The airline's CEO told journalists the plane was carrying 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians, eight Italians, eight Chinese citizens, eight Americans, seven British citizens, seven French citizens, six Egyptians, five Dutch citizens, four Indians, four people from Slovakia, three Austrians, three Swedes, three Russians, two Moroccans, two Spaniards, two Poles and two Israelis.

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."

The Ethiopian prime minister's office sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash.

On Oct. 29, a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed into the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

The plane is the latest version of the 737 family, the world’s best selling modern passenger aircraft and one of the industry’s most reliable.

The New York Times reported last month that the Lion Air tragedy has become a focus of intense debate and speculation in aviation circles, after Boeing and the F.A.A. decided that pilots did not need to be informed about a change introduced to the new 737’s flight control system.

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.