Nairobi — Thirty two Kenyans are among the dead in the Ethiopian air crash that occured on Sunday morning, claiming 157 lives, in a major air disaster to affect the airline whose safety record is highly rated.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, told journalists Kenya is the worst affected nation after the crash that occurred earlier today when a brand new Boeing to Nairobi crashed just six minutes on take-off from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.
"There were at least thirty-five nationalities and regrettably Kenya is the highest with 32 passengers on board. We are focusing more on the welfare of the friends and relatives of the passengers who are as at now at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel within the vicinity of the airport," Macharia said.
There were also 18 Canadians, 9 Ethiopians, 8 Americans and 7 Britons who perished in the crash.
The CS said the government has now dispatched a team officials to Addis Ababa led by Transport Principal Secretary Esther Koimett to coordinate the operations, which include airlifting the bodies back home.
"Senior officers both government and regulatory authorities in Ethiopia are on site and that is why we are also sending our senior officers in Nairobi to be able to coordinate with the senior officers in Ethiopia," he said.
The airline said the pilot of the Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 had alerted controllers "he had difficulties" and wanted to turn back the plane carrying 157 people, the head of Ethiopian Airlines said.
The pilot "was given clearance" to return to Addis, chief executive officer Tewolde GebreMariam told journalists in the Ethiopian capital when asked whether there had been a distress call.
State-owned Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest carrier, said the plane had taken off at 8:38 am (0538 GMT) from Bole International Airport and "lost contact" six minutes later near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres (37 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa by road.
The weather in the capital, was reported to be clear when the brand-new Boeing plane, delivered to Ethiopia last year, plane took off.
The Boeing came down near the village of Tulu Fara outside Bishoftu.
An AFP reporter said there was a massive crater at the crash site, with belongings and airplane parts scattered widely.
Rescue crews were retrieving human remains from the wreckage.
Police and troops were on the scene, as well as a crash investigation team from Ethiopia's civil aviation agency.
In the Kenyan capital, family members, friends, and colleagues of passengers were frantically waiting for news at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
African Union commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said he had learnt of the crash "with utter shock and immense sadness.
"Our prayers are with the families of the passengers + crew as authorities search for survivors. I also express our full solidarity with the Govt & people of Ethiopia," he said on Twitter.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office tweeted it "would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones."
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was "saddened" by the news, adding: "My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board."
Mahboub Maalim, executive secretary of the IGAD East African bloc, said the region and the world were in mourning.
"I cannot seem to find words comforting enough to the families and friends of those who might have lost their lives in this tragedy," he said in a statement.
For its part, the plane's maker, US giant company Boeing, said it was "aware" of the accident "and is closely monitoring the situation."
Ethiopian Airlines said it would send staff to the accident scene to "do everything possible to assist the emergency services."
It would also set up a passenger information centre and a dedicated telephone number for family and friends of people who may have been on the flight, while Kenya's transport minister said officials would meet and council loved ones waiting at JKIA.
The Boeing 737-800MAX is the same type of plane as the Indonesian Lion Air jet that crashed last October, 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.
The last major accident involving an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was a Boeing 737-800 that exploded after taking off from Lebanon in 2010, killing 83 passengers and seven crew.
According to reports, Boeing delivered the plane to Ethiopian Airlines last November.