An Ethiopian Airlines flight with 157 people thought to be on board crashed shortly after taking off on Sunday morning from Ethiopia’s capital while headed to Nairobi, the airline said.
There were no immediate details on what caused the crash of the Boeing 737-8 MAX plane, which was new and had been delivered to the airline in November.
Ethiopia’s state broadcaster EBC said all passengers were dead, adding that they included 33 nationalities.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was checking whether Israeli passengers were aboard. Unconfirmed Hebrew-language media reports said at least two Israelis were feared to have been on the crashed plane.
The Addis Ababa-Nairobi route is often used by Israelis, as there are no direct flights between Israel and Kenya. Channel 13 reported that the plane that crashed had been in Israel as recently as last Wednesday.
The state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa, calls itself Africa’s largest carrier and has ambitions of becoming the gateway to the continent.
The airline’s statement said 149 passengers and eight crew members were thought to be on the plane that crashed six minutes after departing Addis Ababa on its way to Kenya’s capital. The crash occurred around Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Addis Ababa, at 8:44 a.m.
A statement by the Ethiopian prime minister’s office offered its “deepest condolences” to families.
“My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board,” Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
Records show that the plane was new. The Planespotters civil aviation database shows that the Boeing 737-8 MAX was delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in mid-November.
In October, another Boeing 737-8 MAX plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, killing all 189 people on board. The cockpit data recorder showed that the jet’s airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its last four flights, though Lion Air initially claimed that problems with the aircraft had been fixed.
The last deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was in 2010, when a plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Beirut, killing all 90 people on board.
Sunday’s crash comes as the country’s reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, 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.