An Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed just minutes after takeoff Sunday morning, killing all 157 people on board, including eight Americans.
Flight ET302 departed from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at 8:38 a.m. local time. The plane was headed to Nairobi, Kenya, when it lost contact with air controllers six minutes later.
The Ethiopian Airlines jet was a new Boeing 737 Max 8 – the same type of plane that crashed in Indonesia Oct. 29, killing all 189 people aboard.
According to The New York Times, the Ethiopian Airlines plane took off in good weather with clear visibility, but “struggled to ascend at a stable speed.” The pilot issued a distress call and was cleared to return to Addis Ababa when radio contact was lost shortly after.
Many of the passengers aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 likely included delegates traveling to Nairobi for a week-long United Nations Environment Assembly that starts Monday.
The plane was carrying 149 passengers. Ethiopian Airlines said the passengers included 32 Kenyans, nine Ethiopians, eight each from the U.S., China, and Italy, and seven each from France and the U.K. There were eight crew members aboard the flight.
The erratic behavior of the plane indicates it could have experienced the same problems that the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 experienced before it crashed into the Java Sea. The Lion Air flight crew struggled to keep the airplane in an ascent as the front of the jet went into a nose dive more than two dozen times in its 11-minute flight. The Lion Air crew radioed for permission to return to Jakarta but crashed on the return. The same plane experienced nearly identical problems the night before but the pilots were able to land safely in Jakarta.
The Lion Air crash remains under investigation, but Indonesian and U.S authorities believe the nose-dives were probably the result of Boeing software updates that are intended to prevent a stall but can send the plane into a deadly plunge if the system receives faulty altitude and angle info from the aircraft’s sensors. The 737 Max 8 software can override the manual actions taken by the crew.
After the Lion Air crash, Boeing sent out alerts to carriers around the world with instructions on how pilots could counter the airplane’s automatic anti-stall system.
Ethiopian Airlines has grown in recent years to become Africa’s largest carrier and is broadly considered to be the safest on the continent. The rapidly expanding airline had 30 Boeing Max 8 jets on order and already had five of the new planes in its fleet.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have sent investigators to assist Ethiopia’s civil authorities.