An Ethiopian Airlines jet faltered and crashed Sunday shortly after takeoff from the country’s capital, carving a gash in the earth and spreading global grief to 35 countries that had someone among the 157 people who were killed.
There was no immediate indication why the plane went down in clear weather while on a flight to Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya. The crash was strikingly similar to that of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the sea off Indonesia minutes after takeoff last year, killing 189 people. Both accidents involved the Boeing 737 Max 8.
The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in African skies, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which has expanded to become the continent’s largest and best-managed carrier and turned Addis Ababa into the gateway to Africa.
“Ethiopian Airlines is one of the safest airlines in the world. At this stage we cannot rule out anything,” CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told reporters.
He visited the crash site, standing in the gaping crater flecked with debris. Black body bags were spread out nearby while Red Cross and other workers looked for remains. As the sun set, the airline’s chief operating officer said the plane’s flight data recorder had not yet been found.
Shocked leaders of the United Nations, the U.N. refugee agency and the World Food Program announced that colleagues had been on the plane. The U.N. migration agency estimated some 19 U.N.-affiliated employees were killed.
Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and many people were on their way to a large U.N. environmental conference set to begin Monday in Nairobi.