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Ethiopian Airlines crash kills 157, spreads global grief

AP  |  Addis Ababa 

An jet has faltered and crashed shortly after takeoff, carving a gash in the earth and spreading global grief to 35 countries that had someone among the 157 people who were killed.

There was no immediate indication why the plane went down in clear weather while on a flight to Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring

The crash was strikingly similar to that of a jet in last year, killing 189 people. Both accidents involved 737 Max 8, and ordered a temporarily grounding of those planes for Chinese airlines Monday.

The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in African skies, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which has expanded to become the continent's largest and best-managed carrier and turned into the gateway to

"is one of the safest airlines in the world. At this stage we cannot rule out anything," told reporters. He visited the crash site, standing in the gaping crater flecked with debris.

Black body bags were spread out nearby while and other workers looked for remains. As the sun set, the airline's said the plane's flight data recorder had not yet been found.

Around the world, families were gripped by grief. At the airport, a woman called a mobile number in vain. "Where are you, my son?" she said, in tears. Others cried as they approached the terminal.

Henom Esayas, whose sister's Nigerian husband was killed, told they were startled when a stranger picked up their frantic calls to his mobile phone, told them he had found it in the debris and promptly switched it off.

Shocked leaders of the United Nations, and the announced that colleagues had been on the plane. The UN migration agency estimated some 19 UN-affiliated employees were killed.

Both and are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and many people were on their way to a large UN environmental conference set to begin Monday in

The Addis Ababa-route links East Africa's two largest economic powers. Sunburned travelers and tour groups crowd the Addis Ababa airport's waiting areas, along with from China, Gulf nations and elsewhere.

A list of the dead released by included passengers from China, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Israel, and

lost 32 citizens. Canada, 18. Several countries including the lost four or more people.

Ethiopian officials declared Monday a day of mourning.

At the Nairobi airport, hopes quickly dimmed for loved ones. "I just pray that he is safe or he was not on it," said Agnes Muilu, who had come to pick up her brother.

The crash is likely to renew questions about the 737 Max , the newest version of Boeing's popular single-aisle airliner, which was first introduced in 1967 and has become the world's most common passenger jet.

China's civil authority on Monday ordered a nine-hour grounding of that model plane for safety reasons and said it would consult with Boeing and others further.

The Ethiopian Airlines "stated there were no defects prior to the flight, so it is hard to see any parallels with the crash yet," said Harro Ranter, founder of the Safety Network, which compiles information about accidents worldwide.

The Ethiopian plane was new, delivered to the in November. 737 Max 8 was one of 30 meant for the airline, Boeing said in July.

The jet's last maintenance was on February 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours.

The plane crashed six minutes after departure , plowing into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside Addis Ababa, at 8:44 am local time.

The jet showed unstable vertical speed after takeoff, air traffic monitor Flightradar 24 said. The senior Ethiopian pilot, who joined the in 2010, sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return to the airport, the airline's told reporters.

In the US, the Federal Administration said it would join the in assisting Ethiopian authorities with the crash investigation. Boeing planned to send a technical team to

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 has improved in recent years, with the in November noting "two years free of any fatalities on any aircraft type."

Sunday's crash comes as the country's reformist young prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has vowed to open up the and other sectors to foreign investment in a major transformation of the state-centered economy.

Speaking at the inauguration in January of a new passenger terminal in Addis Ababa to triple capacity, the challenged the airline to build a new "Airport City" terminal in Bishoftu where Sunday's crash occurred.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, March 11 2019. 10:00 IST