TEL AVIV – An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday morning from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people on board, including two Israeli passengers.
Thirty-three nationalities were represented among the flight’s 149 passengers and 8 crew members.
It was not immediately clear what caused the the crash of the Boeing 737-8 MAX plane, which was only months old, but the pilot reported difficulties and asked to return to the Ethiopian capital, the airline said.
An eye witness said that the plane was engulfed in flames before hitting the ground.
“At this stage, we cannot rule out anything,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told reporters at Bole International Airport.
“We cannot also attribute the cause to anything because we will have to comply with the international regulation to wait for the investigation.”
The plane was en route to Nairobi and for that reason is a popular route for Israelis looking to travel to Kenya since there are no direct flights to and from Israel. According to Israel’s Channel 13, the plane had been in Israel last Wednesday. The Boeing 737-8 MAX was also used by Lot Airlines between Ben Gurion Airport and Poland as well as Smart Wings for the Tel Aviv-Prague route.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video that Israel had opened a situation room in response to the tragedy.
“I have come here to the Foreign Ministry to closely monitor the reports from Ethiopia. To my sorrow, our ambassador has informed us that two Israelis perished in the plane crash. Our hearts are with the families,” Netanyahu said.
The pilot, named as Senior Captain Yared Getachew, had a “commendable performance” with more than 8,000 hours in the air, the airline said.
A statement by the Ethiopian prime minister’s office offered its “deepest condolences” to the families of the deceased.
“My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said.