An Ethiopian Airlines flight with 157 people thought to be on board crashed shortly after take-off from Ethiopia’s capital. AP
Pretoria - President Cyril Ramaphosa sent a message of condolence to the familis of the 157 people who died in an Ethiopian Airlines crash yesterday.

He said the thoughts of South Africans were with the people of all the affected countries, especially those of Ethiopia and Kenya. “We pass our condolences on the plane crash that killed so many people. (It) is a harrowing experience that is very terrifying to the families.

“We also pass our condolences to the families and the government. I will be talking to the Prime Minister of Ethiopa to pass our condolences. So, we are very sad that an incident like that has happened.”

Ramaphosa said South African diplomatic missions in Addis Ababa and Nairobi had been directed to work with Ethiopian Airlines to ascertain whether there were any South Africans on board the plane, which crashed yesterday.

It was carrying passengers from more than 30 countries, the airline’s CEO told journalists.

He said they included 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians, eight Italians, eight Chinese citizens, eight Americans, seven British citizens, seven French citizens, six Egyptians, five Dutch citizens, four Indians, four people from Slovakia, three Austrians, three Swedes, three Russians, two Moroccans, two Spaniards, two Poles and two Israelis.

Belgium, Indonesia, Somalia, Norway, Serbia, Togo, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen each had one citizen on board.

Four of those on board were listed as using UN passports and their nationalities were not immediately clear.

The Boeing 737 passenger jet to Nairobi had 149 passengers and eight crew members on board, the airline said, and there were no survivors, according to the state broadcaster.

The flight left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8.38am local time before losing contact with the control tower minutes later at 8.44am.

“There are no survivors on board the flight,” said the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

Flight ET302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62km south-east of Addis Ababa, the airline said, adding that the plane was a Boeing 737-800 Max, registration number ET-AVJ.

That model number does not exist, however, and multiple aviation websites later identified the plane as a new 737 Max 8, identical to one that crashed in Indonesia last October, killing 189.

“Search and rescue operations are in progress and we have no confirmed information about survivors or any possible casualties,” the airline said.

The flight had unstable vertical speed after take-off, said flight tracking website Flightradar24 on its Twitter feed.

At Nairobi airport, many passengers were waiting at the gate, with no information from airport authorities. “We’re just waiting for my mum. We’re just hoping she took a different flight or was delayed. She’s not picking up her phone,” said Wendy Otieno, clutching her phone and weeping.

Robert Mudanta, 46, was waiting for his brother-in-law coming from Canada.

“No, we haven’t seen anyone from the airline or the airport,” he told Reuters more than three hours after the flight was lost. “Nobody has told us anything, we are just standing here hoping for the best.”

The Ethiopian Prime Minister’s office sent condolences via Twitter to the families of those lost in the crash.