Eight Americans were among the 157 people killed when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The 4-month-old Boeing 737-8 MAX plane crashed six minutes into its flight to Nairobi, Kenya, plowing into the ground at 8:44 a.m. local time, 31 miles south of Addis Ababa.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The pilot sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return, said Tewolde GebreMariam, the airline’s CEO.
The new MAX 8 configuration – a single-aisle plane with room for up to 210 passengers – was certified for flight by U.S. and European regulators two years ago.
It has two major crashes on its record. In October, the same model plane operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people on board were killed.
The plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines had routine maintenance Feb. 4 and had flown 1,200 hours, GebreMariam said. The pilot had nine years of seniority with the airline. Overall, the airline’s safety record had been on par with other major world airlines.
At least 35 nationalities, including 32 Kenyans and 18 Canadians, were among the dead, the airline said. The plane was carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members.
At least one of the passengers was carrying a United Nations passport, and the U.N. World Food Programme confirmed that multiple staffers were among those killed.
“The WFP family mourns today,” Executive Director David Beasley said. “We will do all that is humanly possible to help the families at this painful time.”
With a motto of “The New Spirit of Africa,” the government-owned airline is Africa’s largest and has been aggressively expanding on the continent. It opened a new terminal at its hub in Addis Ababa in January, tripling its capacity.