FRAMED photographs of the seven crew members displayed at a memorial service held by an association of Ethiopian airline pilots, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia yesterday. AP
Transport Minister Dr Blade Nzimande said South Africa would collaborate with Ethiopian counterparts to offer any necessary assistance and skills needed to ensure the speedy conclusion of the investigation to Sunday's plane crash.

This would be done through the task team comprising of all relevant state entities and agencies such the South African Civil Aviation Authority, Air Traffic and Navigation Services and South Africa Search and Rescue, Nzimande said.

He said the country was mourning the loss of lives of 157 passengers and eight crew members killed on flight ET302 from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to Nairobi in Kenya.

The crash happened at 8.44am local time, six minutes after the Boeing 737 Max-8 took off. The cause of the disaster was not yet known. However, the pilot had reported difficulties and had asked to return to Addis Ababa.

A Greek man said he would have been the 150th passenger on the Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines Boeing plane, except he arrived two minutes late for the flight. “I was mad because nobody helped me to reach the gate on time,” Antonis Mavropoulos said in a Facebook post entitled “My lucky day” in which he includes a photo of his ticket.

Mavropoulos, president of the International Solid Waste Association, a non-profit organisation, was travelling to Nairobi to attend the annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme, according to Athens News Agency.

He was supposed to board the plane but he reached the departure gate just two minutes after it was closed.

He booked a later flight but was then prevented from boarding by airport staff.

“They led me to the police station of the airport. The officer told me not to protest but to pray to God because I was the only passenger who didn’t board the ET 302 flight that was lost,” Mavropoulos said in his post in which he admits being in shock.

The airport authorities explained that they wanted to question him because he was the only passenger booked onto the doomed flight who wasn't on board.

“They said they couldn’t let me go before cross-checking my identity, the reason I hadn’t boarded the plane etc.”

The Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 crashed just minutes after an early-morning take-off from Addis Ababa.

People holding passports from more than 30 countries were on board, as well as a number of UN workers.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines had taken delivery of the Boeing 737-800 MAX plane on November 15. It was of the same type as a plane that crashed in October after take-off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebre-Mariam said that both the captain and the first officer of the ill-fated Flight ET302 were experienced.

The East African reports that Tewolde said Captain Yared Getachew, an Ethiopian-born Kenyan national, was the senior pilot, who had been flying the same plane since November 2007. His first officer, Ahmednur Mohamednur, had several flight hours under his belt.

The Boeing 737 Max-plane, which underwent a routine maintenance check on February 4, was flying from Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when it crashed.

Contact with the plane was lost less than 10 minutes after it took off from Bole Airport before the crash claimed the lives of all on board from 33 different countries, the majority of them Kenyan.

The brand new aircraft was delivered by Boeing to Ethiopia last year.

Expressing sadness over the incident, Boeing said it would provide technical assistance, to find out why its aircraft crashed, under the direction of the US National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash was Ethiopian Airlines’ second major accident since the 1996 Comoros hijacking tragedy that culminated in a crash that killed 125 of the 175 passengers.

South African-based airline Comair said it would continue to monitor the various investigations by authorities into the Lion Air accident in October last year and this weekend's crash, both involving Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Comair, which operates domestic routes as a British Airways franchisee and as a low-cost carrier under its own kulula.com brand, said on February 27 it had taken delivery of the first of eight Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.

Executive director of Comair’s Airline Division, Wrenelle Stander, said the airline was in close contact with both Boeing and the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

“Our highly trained and experienced flight crew and engineers remain vigilant. If we receive information that requires us to reassess the situation, please be assured we will take appropriate action in the interests of the safety of our staff and customers,” Stander said.

“Safety remains our foremost priority and we will not compromise on the safety of our crew and our customers,” she said. She urged caution against speculating on the causes of the Ethiopian Airlines mishap and the Lion Air accident which took 189 lives. - African News Agency (ANA), AFP