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'No survivors' from crashed Ethiopian Airlines flight with 157 on board

Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters | File photo: Workers service an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane at the Bole International Airport in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 26, 2017.

A Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines Boeing crashed minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa Sunday, killing all eight crew and 149 passengers on board, including tourists, business travellers, and at least 19 UN staff.

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Ethiopia declared a national day of mourning for Monday amid a global stream of condolences for loved ones, many of whom gathered in tears at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash of the Boeing 737-8 MAX plane, which was new and had been delivered to the airline in November, records show.

"There are no survivors," the airline tweeted alongside a picture of CEO Tewolde GebreMariam holding up a piece of debris inside a large crater at the crash site.

Passengers from 35 countries were aboard, the airline said. They included Kenyan, Ethiopian, American, Canadian, French, Chinese, Egyptian, Swedish, British, Dutch, Indian, Slovakian, Austrian, Swedish, Russian, Moroccan, Spanish, Polish, and Israeli citizens.

France's foreign ministry said eight French nationals were among the dead.

The passengers included a number of UN-affiliated staff headed for an annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme, which opens in Nairobi Monday with some 4,700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and civil society representatives

"Early indications are that 19 staff members of UN affiliated organizations perished," said International Organization for Migration (IOM) head Antonio Vitorino.

Along with the IOM, the World Food Program, UN Refugee Agency, World Bank, UN Environment Agency and others lost colleagues, he said.

"Deeply saddened by the news this morning of the plane crash in Ethiopia, claiming the lives of all on board. My heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all the victims – including our own @UN staff – who perished in this tragedy," tweeted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Popular tourist route

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 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.

'Red Cross has offered psychological support to families gathered at Nairobi airport'

Sunday's flight left Bole airport in the Ethiopian capital at 8:38 am (0538 GMT), before losing contact with the control tower just a few minutes later at 8:44 am.

The crash occurred around Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) south of Addis Ababa.

The plane showed unstable vertical speed after takeoff, air traffic monitor Flightradar 24 said in a Twitter post. Visibility appeared to be clear.

GebreMariam said the plane had flown in from Johannesburg earlier Sunday, spent three hours in Addis and was "despatched with no remark", meaning no problems were flagged.

Asked if the pilot had made a distress call, the CEO said "the pilot mentioned that he had difficulties and he wants to return. He was given clearance" to turn around.

Second crash of Boeing plane

The plane was new, according to the Planespotters civil aviation database, which 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 plane Lion Air flight.

The cause of that crash is still being investigated. A preliminary report issued in November, before the cockpit voice recorder was recovered, focused on airline maintenance and training and the response of a Boeing anti-stall system to a recently replaced sensor but did not give a reason for the crash.

Media reports in China said the country's aviation regulator has ordered domestic airlines to suspend their Boeing 737-8 Max aircraft following Sunday's crash.

Citing industry sources familiar with the matter, media outlet Caijing said domestic airlines, which operate some 60 such airplanes, had received orders from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and halted their use.

32 Kenyans among casualties

"We can only hope that she is not on that flight," Peter Kimani, who had come to fetch his sister at Nairobi's JKIA airport, told AFP after news of the disaster reached those waiting in the arrivals hall.

Loved ones were later brought to the onsite Sheraton Hotel where they were debriefed and offered counselling. Journalists were not allowed in, but could hear sobbing from inside.

Ethiopian Airlines said Kenya had the largest number of casualties with 32, followed by Canada with 18, Ethiopia nine, then France, Italy, China, and the United States with eight each.

"My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board," Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

African Union commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat spoke of "utter shock and immense sadness", while Mahboub Maalim, executive secretary of the IGAD East African bloc, said the region and the world were in mourning.

Sympathy messages also came from the governments of Ethiopia, Uganda, Britain, Germany, France and the United States.

Sunday's crash comes as Ethiopia'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.

The last deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was in 2010, when the plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Beirut killing all 90 people on board.

(FRANCE 24 with, AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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