Ethiopian airline crash: Worried families besiege Nairobi airport

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Families of the 157 passengers of the Ethiopia jetliner that crashed shortly after take-off from the Ethiopian capital on Sunday have besieged Nairobi airport for information about their loved ones.

It was not clear what caused the Ethiopian Airlines plane to go down in clear weather, but the airlines issued a list showing 35 nationalities were among the dead, including 32 Kenyans and 18 Canadians

Some of those aboard were thought to be traveling to a major United Nations environmental meeting scheduled to start Monday in Nairobi.

The plane crashed six minutes after departing, plowing into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Addis Ababa, at 8:44 a.m.

The jetliner showed unstable vertical speed after takeoff, air traffic monitor Flightradar 24 said in a Twitter post.

 “I came to the airport to receive my brother, but I have been told there is a problem,” Agnes Muilu said. “I just pray that he is safe or he was not on it.”

“Why are they taking us round and round? It is all over the news that the plane crashed,” said Edwin Ong’undi, who was waiting for his sister. “All we are asking for is information to know about their fate.”

The jet’s last maintenance was on Feb. 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours. The pilot was a senior aviator, joining the airline in 2010, the CEO said.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 was one of 30 being delivered to the airline, Boeing said in a statement in July when the first was delivered.

Boeing said a technical team was ready to provide assistance at the request of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

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

African air travel, long troubled and chaotic, has improved in recent years, with the International Air Transport Association in November noting “two years free of any fatalities on any aircraft type.”

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’ expansion has included the recent opening of a route to Moscow and the inauguration in January of 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.

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