Tearful colleagues pay tribute to Ethiopian Airlines pilot with ‘excellent flying record’

Tearful colleagues have paid tribute to the pilot of the Ethiopian Airlines jet which crashed killing all 157 on board.

Senior Captain Yared Getachew, who was a dual Ethiopian-Kenyan national, was the main pilot on flight 302 which came down minutes after take off from Addis Ababa on Sunday morning.

Airline chief Tewolde GebreMariam said Mr Getachew had flown more than 8,000 hours and had an ‘excellent flying record’.

The senior pilot issued a distress call shortly after departure and was told to return but all contact was lost shortly afterward. The plane then ploughed into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu.

There were scenes of agony as members of an association of Ethiopian airline pilots cried uncontrollably for colleagues killed in Sunday’s crash near Addis Ababa.

Framed photographs of seven crew members sit in chairs at the front of a crowded room.

One pilot says he had planned to watch a soccer game between Manchester and Arsenal with the flight’s main pilot, Yared Getachew.

It was Getachew who issued a distress call shortly after takeoff and was told to return. But all contact was lost.

His friend Hassan Katende, said his ‘hair just stood up’ when he heard that he had died in the crash. 

Mr Katende said he learned of the disaster through social media.

‘I can’t sleep. It’s shocking. It’s very hard to believe. It’s really unbelievable,’ he said.

Investigators seeking to find the cause of the crash discovered the black box with both the cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data on Monday, Ethiopian state TV said. 

At the crash site, men in Red Cross jackets and face masks picked through a large crater, bagging body parts and items like clothing, boarding passes, serviettes and other personal effects.

The dead included aid workers, doctors, professors of literature and botany, a law student, a newly-wed woman, a father soon expecting a child, and a couple who recently had a baby.

In Nairobi, a major hub for aid workers and diplomats in Africa, a summit opened with a moment of silence and tears for the U.N. members killed.

‘It is one of the biggest catastrophes we have had in years,’ said Michael Moller, U.N. head in Geneva. 

The airplane was received in November 2018, had flown more than 1,200 hours, and returned from Johannesburg earlier on Sunday, Chief Executive Tewolde GebreMariam said. 

The flight had unstable vertical speed after take-off, the flight tracking website Flightradar24 tweeted.

The Sweden-based service said the aircraft had climbed almost 1,000 feet after taking off from Addis Ababa, a hot and high-altitude airport whose thinner air requires extra effort from an aircraft’s engines.

It dipped about 450 feet before rapidly climbing another 900 feet until the point where satellite tracking data was lost.