UPDATE (10:44 a.m.)– Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives has declared Monday a national day of mourning for all 157 victims of Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office says the cause of the crash will be “communicated promptly to the public as updates come in.”
The prime minister visited the crash site earlier Sunday, as did the airline’s CEO. The plane had been en route to Nairobi.
Eight Americans were among 157 people killed when a plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Ethiopia on Sunday morning.
The Ethiopian Airlines flight was headed from Addis Ababa en route to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi with 149 passengers and eight crew members on board, the airline said. There were no survivors.
There were no immediate details on what caused the crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, which was new and had been delivered to the airline in November, but Swedish flight-tracking website flightradar24 said the plane “had unstable vertical speed” after take-off.
The airline’s CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told a press conference that the plane had no known technical issues and the captain had an “excellent flying record” with more than 8,000 hours of flying experience.
He reported “difficulties” while in flight and wanted to return to the airport, Gebremariam said. He was given clearance to turn back, but it’s unclear what happened next. “[The plane] was lost from the radar — it disappeared,” he said.
Gebremariam expressed his “profound sympathy and condolences to the families and loved ones of passengers and crew who lost their lives in this tragic accident” in a Facebook statement.
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who visited the site of the crash, offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of those on board.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta also tweeted that he was saddened by the news of the crash. “My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board,” Kenyatta said.
Authorities earlier said 32 Kenyans had died in the crash. State affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported that 18 Ethiopians were killed. They later confirmed the plane was carrying passengers from more than 30 countries. Those include 18 Canadians; eight each from China, the United States and Italy and seven each from France and Britain.
No names have been released. The airline said later Sunday the bodies of the victims will be delivered to their families once the identities of the deceased are determined.
The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said its officials are in contact with the country’s government and the airline “to offer all possible assistance.”
The U.S. State Department said its officials will contact family members of the U.S. passengers directly.
Four of those on board were listed as using United Nations passports and their nationalities were not immediately clear. Gebremariam could not confirm if the victims included U.N. staff and diplomats on their way to the U.N. Environment Assembly that’s taking place in Nairobi next week.
Maria Fernanda, the president of the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly, tweeted her condolences to the friends and families of those affected by the crash, saying it’s “a popular route for many fighting for the good of Africa.”
Boeing said in a statement that a technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
“Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” it 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.”
The NTSB later said it would send four people to assist in in the investigation because the aircraft was manufactured in the U.S.
In October, another Boeing 737 Max 8 plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, killing all 189 people on board.
The Addis Ababa-Nairobi route links East Africa’s two largest economic powers and is popular with tourists making their way to safari and other destinations. Sunburned travelers and tour groups crowd the Addis Ababa airport’s waiting areas, along with businessmen from China and elsewhere.
At the airport in Nairobi, worried families gathered.
“I came to the airport to receive my brother but I have been told there is a problem,” Agnes Muilu said. “I just pray that he is safe or he was not on it.”
The state-owned airline, widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa, calls itself Africa’s largest carrier and has ambitions of becoming the gateway to the continent.
Sunday’s crash comes as the country’s reformist prime minister has vowed to open up the airline and other sectors to foreign investment in a major transformation of the state-centered economy.
Ethiopian Airlines has been expanding assertively, recently opening a route to Moscow and in January inaugurating a new passenger terminal in Addis Ababa to triple capacity.
Speaking at the inauguration, the prime minister challenged the airline to build a new “Airport City” terminal in Bishoftu, where Sunday’s crash occurred.