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Ethiopian Airlines plane on way to Kenya crashes soon after take-off

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines is widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa (Ben Curtis/AP)
State-owned Ethiopian Airlines is widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa (Ben Curtis/AP)

An Ethiopian Airlines flight with 157 people thought to be on board has crashed shortly after take-off from Ethiopia’s capital while headed to Nairobi in Kenya, the airline said.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines, widely considered the best-managed airline in Africa, calls itself Africa’s largest carrier and has ambitions to become the gateway to the continent.

The airline’s statement said 149 passengers and eight crew members were thought to be on the Boeing 737 that crashed six minutes after departing Addis Ababa on its way to Kenya’s capital.

The crash occurred around 31 miles south of the capital, shortly after taking off, the airline said.

While the airline said “search and rescue operations are in progress and we have no confirmed information about survivors or any possible casualties”, a separate statement by the Ethiopian prime minister’s office offered its “deepest condolences” to families.

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

Sunday’s crash comes as the country’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-centred 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.

Records show that the Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane that crashed was a new one.

The Planespotters civil aviation database shows that the plane was delivered to the airline in mid-November.

“My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board,” said Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta.