Ethiopian Airlines has indicated that the crew of the crashed Boeing 737 Max 8 sought to return to Addis Ababa after experiencing problems after take-off.
Group chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam said the pilot had “mentioned that he had difficulty” and wanted to return, and was given clearance.
Gebremariam states that the crew was not seeking to land at the Ethiopian air force's Harar Meda base, near Bishoftu, some 40km south-east of the capital and close to the crash site.
He was speaking at a briefing after paying a visit to the scene of the accident which occurred shortly after the jet took off for Nairobi at 08:38.
Images from the crash site, in a rural area, indicate a crater and only small fragments of the aircraft, suggesting a confined high-energy impact.
Gebremariam says the captain had been employed with the carrier since July 2010 and flown as a senior pilot since November 2017. He had an “excellent flying record”, adds Gebremariam, and had logged more than 8,000h.
The aircraft had arrived from Johannesburg earlier in the day, as flight ET858, and there had been no technical remarks regarding its operation.
Gebremariam says the twinjet was “brand new”, and had flown over 1,200h. “Routine maintenance checks didn’t reveal any problem,” he says, adding that the aircraft was “well-maintained”.
He declines to comment on any similarity with the Lion Air Max 8 accident which occurred in October last year, but Ethiopian appears not to be planning any immediate action regarding the operation of the rest of its Max fleet.
Flight ET302 had been transporting 149 passengers, says Gebremariam, with multiple nationalities including some travelling on United Nations passports.