The pilot of a Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 that crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, 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.
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed Sunday morning en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, killing all 149 passengers and eight crew on board, state media reported as African leaders offered condolences.
“We hereby confirm that our scheduled flight ET 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi was involved in accident today,” the airline said in a statement, later confirming a report by Ethiopia’s FANA Broadcasting Corp that there were no survivors.
“It is believed that there were 149 passengers and eight crew on board the flight,” it said.
The airline has not provided information on passengers’ nationalities but there are reports people from 33 countries were on board. The crash came on the eve of a major, annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme opening in Nairobi.
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, according to an AFP reporter, was 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).
“I am still hoping that all is fine, because I have been waiting for my sister since morning and we have not been told anything,” Peter Kimani told AFP in the arrivals lounge over an hour after the plane was scheduled to land at 10:25 am local time.
His sister is a nurse who he said had gone to Congo. “She travels a lot on missions.”
“We are still expecting our loved one from Addis… we have just received news that there is a plane that has crashed. We can only hope that she is not on that flight.”
Hoping for the best
Among those waiting, Khalid Ali Abdulrahman received happy news about his son, who works in Dubai.
“I arrived here shortly after 10:00 am and as I waited, a security person approached me and asked me which flight are you waiting for. I answered him quickly because I wanted him to direct me to the arrivals, so I told him Ethiopia, and then he said: ‘Sorry, that one has crashed’.”
“I was shocked, but shortly after, my son contacted me and told me he is still in Addis and did not board that flight, he is waiting for the second one which has been delayed,” Khalid told AFP.
“I am waiting for my colleague, I just hope for the best,” added Hannah, a Chinese national.
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.
Hundreds of travellers were stranded at Nairobi airport Wednesday, and some were treated for tear gas exposure, as striking workers and police faced off at East Africa’s busiest air traffic hub.
After flights began to be grounded from midnight, passengers were advised not to come to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) — East Africa’s busiest according to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) — until further notice.
However, hundreds were already there, some waiting for many hours.
In the terminals, confusion reigned with little information circulating and police firing tear gas as they moved in to arrest a union official they accused of inciting workers.
Several strikers and would-be travellers were treated on-site for exposure to the blinding, choking spray, and some for small injuries sustained in the chaos that ensued as they tried to escape the fumes.
Stranded passenger Christine voiced the bewilderment of many: “Why are police using unnecessary force with teargas at an airport?”
Travellers were then asked by police to leave the building, and gathered in parking and waiting areas outside the airport.
As the strike passed the 12-hour mark, the situation at the airport calmed somewhat as the first plane — to Mumbai — took off around lunchtime.
But hundreds of travellers were still anxiously awaiting news about their flights amid a heavy security deployment.
The workers, who had not given notice of their labour action beforehand, are angry about the planned partial takeover of the airport, operated by state-run KAA, by national carrier Kenya Airways.
— ‘Sabotage’ — Transport Minister James Macharia told journalists that workers need not worry about the possible change of ownership.
“What they were fearing is that the proposed merger between KQ (the acronym for Kenya Airways) and KAA will result in job losses but we gave assurances that that will not happen,” he said.
“So this (strike) is completely uncalled for because the deal has not happened.”
The minister added that KAA, with the help of security services and staff from Kenya Airways, were replacing striking staff.
“This strike is illegal. It is sabotage and amounts to a criminal activity that must be punished. That is why the union officials have been arrested for inciting workers to go on strike,” said Macharia.
“They should be aware that this is a security installation, you cannot interfere with a security installation.”
Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KUWA) chief Moss Ndiema was arrested at the airport.
According to the KAA, more than 7.6 million passengers and 313,000 tons of cargo passed through JKIA in more than 111,000 aircraft movements in 2017.
The airport contributes just over five percent to Kenya’s gross domestic product.
Kenya Airways chief executive Sebastian Mikosz said 24 departing flights, and two arrivals, had been affected by the strike, but “we expect the situation to normalise during the day.”
“We are set to resume operations, although the process is a bit slow,” he said.
Operations at Kenya’s two other main airports, at Mombasa in the southeast and Kisumu in the west, have also been affected.
Fifteen people have died in an Islamist attack on an upmarket hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenyan police sources said Wednesday, as fresh explosions and gunfire rang out in the siege which stretched into its second day.
Security forces worked throughout the night to secure the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, spa, restaurant and office buildings, after an attack claimed by Al-Shabaab Islamists on Tuesday afternoon.
At least one suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel while gunmen sprayed fire before engaging security forces and holing themselves up at the premises as civilians fled or barricaded themselves in their offices awaiting rescue.
“We have 15 people dead as of now and that includes foreigners,” a police source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Among the dead was an American citizen, a State Department official said.
A second police source confirmed the toll but warned “there are areas not yet accessed but that’s what we know so far.”
After 12 hours trapped inside the complex, a group of dozens of people was freed at 3:30am (1230GMT), according to an AFP journalist at the scene, followed by fresh gunfire and a detonation.
At least five people were killed Tuesday when an Islamist suicide bomber and gunmen stormed an upmarket hotel complex in Nairobi, in the first such attack in the Kenyan capital in five years.
Gunshots rang out sporadically as night fell in Nairobi, where police combed the hotel and outlying office buildings for survivors while trying to flush out the attackers.
The attack at the DusitD2 compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, restaurant and office buildings housing local and international companies, began at 3 pm (1200 GMT) with a massive explosion heard five kilometres (three miles) away at the AFP bureau.
The Al-Qaeda linked Somalian group Al-Shabaab, which carried out a notorious assault on a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.
“We can now confirm that this criminal activity commenced at about three o’clock in a coordinated fashion and began at I&M Bank with an explosion that targeted three vehicles in the parking lot, and a suicide explosion in the foyer of Dusit hotel,” said Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet.
He said “a number of guests suffered serious injuries” but did not give a figure for any fatalities.
An AFP photographer saw the bodies of five dead, slumped over tables on a restaurant terrace in the complex, while a police source who asked not to be named said he had seen as many as 14 dead.
Elite police forces evacuated terrified workers barricaded in offices after an hour of sustained gunfire as they engaged the attackers.
More than six hours after the attack it was unclear how many people were still hiding inside office buildings or the hotel, owned by Thai giant Dusit Thani Group.
Simon Crump, who works in the complex, said terrified workers had barricaded themselves inside their offices after “several” explosions.
“We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions,” he told AFP a few hours before he was also evacuated.
“A lot of people ran when the first few explosions happened, there was a mad rush for the exit,” he said.
Boinnet said security forces had contained six of the seven floors of the hotel and were also working to secure “remaining outbuildings in the complex”.
“There still could be armed criminals holed up at the building and our team of special forces are doing their best to flush them out, and all our critical national infrastructure remains on guard,” he said.
– ‘A flash and a bang’ – John Maingi said there had been “a flash of lights and a loud bang” at the Secret Garden restaurant where he works.
“When I peeped outside I saw a human leg which has been cut off. We hid in the room and then some police officers rescued us,” he said.
Shortly after the attack began flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the parking lot where several cars where ablaze.
Police sirens echoed through the city and two helicopters buzzed overhead while ambulances with flashing lights lined up outside the hotel.
A private security guard at the scene told AFP he had seen four “gangsters” entering the compound.
An AFP reporter saw a bomb disposal squad blow up a car which they said the attackers had driven to the complex.
Meanwhile, the vast upscale Village Market shopping centre in northern Nairobi said on Twitter that it had closed temporarily as a “security precaution.”
Kenyan hospitals put out an urgent call for blood donations for the injured.
– Shabaab – The attack at DusitD2 is the first in Nairobi since gunmen stormed the city’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing at least 67 people. The attack and ensuing siege lasted around four days.
That assault was also claimed by Somalia’s Shabaab, who have been fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu since 2007.
The Westgate attack resulted in many upscale establishments and shopping centres in the capital — including the Dusit — putting up strict security barriers checking vehicles and pedestrians.
The Shabaab targeted Kenya after it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the jihadist group.
On April 2, 2015, another Shabaab attack killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.
In its statement, the Shabaab noted the attack came exactly three years after its fighters overran a Kenyan military base in Somalia.
“This attack on Nairobi hotel came as Kenyans and their media are commemorating (the) El Adde attack,” it said.
The Shabaab claimed more than 200 soldiers died in that assault, while the government has refused to give its own toll or disclose details of the attack.
The Al-Shabaab Islamist group in Somalia on Tuesday claimed responsibility for an ongoing attack in the Kenyan capital, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.
The Al-Qaeda-linked group said it was behind the attack, which has seen a blast and gunfire at the DusitD2 hotel and office compound in the Nairobisuburb of Westlands, according to a brief announcement via its news agency.
Explosion, Gunfire At Hotel And Office Complex
A gunfight was underway following a blast at a hotel and office complex in a leafy Nairobi neighbourhood Tuesday, an AFP reporter and a witness said.
A blast at the DusitD2 compound, which includes a hotel and several office buildings housing international companies, was heard from AFP’s offices some five kilometres (three miles) away.
Simon Crump, who works at one of the offices, said workers had barricaded themselves inside their offices after “several” explosions.
“We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions,” he told AFP, adding that the people were terrified.
Police sirens echoed through the city and a helicopter buzzed overhead.
A reporter sent to the scene said the gunmen and security forces were exchanging gunfire.
“There was a bomb, there is a lot of gunfire,” whispered another man working at the compound, asking not to be named.
It was not immediately clear whether the incident was a robbery or an attack.
“All police teams have been dispatched to the scene where the incident is. As at now we are treating it as anything, including the highest attack,” police spokesman Charles Owino said by phone.
“All police teams including anti-terror officers are at the scene,” he said.
Flames and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky from the parking lot of the compound where several vehicles were on fire, with scores of people fleeing the compound, some of them lightly injured.
The scenes in the Westlands suburb reminded Nairobians of a bloody terrorist attack in 2013 when Islamist gunmen stormed the Westgate mall, killing at least 67 people.
The country faced a spate of attacks after it sent its army into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the Islamist Shabaab group, affiliated to Al-Qaeda.
On April 2, 2015, another Shabaab attack killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.
Four bodies were found in the streets of a Nairobi slum on Sunday with the discovery sparking clashes in a city on edge after clashes between opposition supporters and police turned deadly.
The bodies of three men and a woman were found in the city’s Mathare slum, one of several flashpoint areas where violence erupted during last month’s disputed presidential election re-run, which was largely boycotted by the opposition.
It was not immediately clear how they had died, but the discovery fanned tensions, coming just days after three people were shot dead by police in a nearby suburb as thousands of opposition supporters turned out in support of their leader, Raila Odinga.
“We have launched an investigation into the murders of the four people killed in Mathare Area 1. We are yet to establish how they were killed,” a senior police official told AFP at the scene.
He said angry residents, who claimed the violence was ethnically driven, had set fire to two buses and another vehicle, with police sealing off the area.
Locals blamed the deaths on the Mungiki, a feared gang known for running protection rackets and violently defending tribal business interests.
Its members come from the Kikuyu tribe of President Uhuru Kenyatta, and many of them live in the Mathare slum alongside ethnic Luo or Luhya, who largely back Odinga.
The bodies were discovered a day before Kenya’s Supreme Court was to rule on whether Kenyatta can be sworn in for a second term or if there must be another re-run.
Although Kenyatta won the October 26 vote with 98 percent of the votes cast, the ballot was boycotted by Odinga and marred by low turnout and violent protests.
The vote was the chaotic climax of two months of political drama after the Supreme Court overturned Kenyatta’s victory in an initial August 8 poll over widespread irregularities and mismanagement by the IEBC.
Three people were shot dead Friday in Nairobi, an AFP reporter saw, as police dispersed thousands of opposition supporters welcoming home their leader Raila Odinga from an overseas trip.
The three men, all with bullet wounds in the upper body, were seen lying on the road in Muthurwa, a city suburb where riot police armed with tear gas, water cannons and rifles clashed with stone throwing protesters, part of angry battles that lasted throughout the day.
Odinga won an unprecedented court victory overturning the result of the August 8 presidential poll, leading to a rerun last month that he then boycotted claiming it would not be free and fair.
Kenya’s Supreme Court is due to rule Monday on whether President Uhuru Kenyatta can be sworn in for a second term or if there must be another rerun.
The dispute over this year’s presidential vote has left the country deeply divided and protests between opposition supporters and police have become commonplace.
Human rights groups estimate that close to 50 people have been killed in election-related violence, the vast majority shot by police.
Odinga returned Friday from a 10-day trip to the United States where he visited think tanks and sought support for his contention that fresh elections must be held, supervised by an overhauled election board.
His National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition had called its supporters to a “Welcome Back Baba Convoy” — using a nickname for Odinga — to join the opposition leader on his way from the airport to a planned rally in the city centre.
But a heavy deployment of police blocked roads and broke up crowds surrounding the convoy, unleashing liberal amounts of tear gas, copious jets from water cannon trucks and firing shots.
The clashes caused chaos in the capital that continued late into the afternoon.
Following the rerun vote, NASA launched a “National Resistance Movement” aiming to use civil disobedience and boycotts to challenge what it considers to be Kenyatta’s illegal government.
Friday’s gathering of thousands of opposition supporters in Nairobi was the movement’s first show of strength since then, but fell short of the “million man march” promised by party leaders.
It also marked a heavier deployment of police than in the past, as they sought to block Odinga from holding a rally.
Eventually, Odinga managed to say a few words to cheering supporters from the sunroof of his car.
“Today is the day we are launching Kenya as a third republic,” he said, referring to independence from Britain in 1963 and the new constitution in 2010.
“What you have seen is a signal that a third liberation is coming soon,” Odinga said before driving away.
Kenya’s government on Thursday banned protests in the centres of three major cities, including the capital Nairobi, citing lawlessness following opposition demonstrations against the country’s electoral commission.
“Due to the clear, present and imminent danger of breach of peace, the government notifies the public that, for the time being, we will not allow demonstrations within the central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu,” said Security Minister Fred Matiangi.
“The inspector general of police has been advised accordingly.”
The outlawing of city centre protests comes as the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) had promised to step up its demonstrations demanding reforms before the holding of a presidential poll re-run, due on 26 October.
Matiangi said opposition protests had seen “attacks on police stations, attacks on police officers occasioning grievous bodily harm, serious disruption of normal business, assault on innocent civilians, destruction and looting of property.”
He threatened protest organisers with legal action.
“It is the responsibility of the organiser that all participants remain peaceful. The organisers shall be held personally liable for any breach of law during the demonstrations,” he said.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga said this week that he is withdrawing from the scheduled re-run.
He said that without fundamental reforms to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the vote would not be free and fair.
The streets of Kenyan capital Nairobi were eerily calm on Monday, the eve of the presidential election that many fear could descend into violence.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, 72, who lost elections in 2007 and 2013, has already said President Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, can only win if his ruling Jubilee party rigs the vote, a stance that increases the chances of a disputed result and unrest.
Opinion polls before Tuesday’s presidential election put the pair neck-and-neck. Kenyans will also be voting for members of parliament and local representatives.
In 2007, Odinga’s call for street protests after problems with the vote count triggered a widespread campaign of ethnic violence in which 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced.
The violence also hammered East Africa’s biggest economy as regional trade ground to a halt and tourists, the biggest source of foreign exchange, canceled holidays.
Much of the killing a decade ago was in Kisumu, a city of a million people, most of them from Odinga’s Luo tribe, on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Rights groups say hate-speech has been notably absent from large public speeches in both campaigns – an important difference from 2007 – although two incidents in the last week have put the nation of nearly 50 million on edge.
A key election official was found tortured and murdered a week ago, and on Friday two foreign political advisers to Odinga were arrested and deported by plain-clothes police. Their laptops were also seized.