Sunday’s flight left Bole airport in Addis Ababa at 8:38 a.m. (0538 GMT), before losing contact with the control tower just a few minutes later at 8:44 a.m.
Flight ET 302, registration number ET-AVJ, crashed near the town of Bishoftu, 62 km (38 miles) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa with 149 passengers and eight crew aboard, the airline said.
The aircraft shattered into many pieces and was severely burnt, a Reuters reporter at the crash scene said. Clothing and personal effects were scattered widely over the field where the plane came down.
The flight had unstable vertical speed after take off, the flight tracking website Flightradar24 tweeted.
At airports in Addis Ababa and Nairobi, many relatives were left waiting at the gate for hours, with no information from airport authorities. Some learned of the crash from journalists.
James Macharia, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for transport, confirmed passengers from more than 30 countries were aboard including Kenyan, Ethiopian, American, Canadian, French, Chinese, Egyptian, Swedish, British, Dutch, Indian, Slovakian, Austrian, Swedish, Russian, Moroccan, Spanish, Polish, and Israeli citizens.
Ethiopian is one of the biggest carriers on the continent by fleet size. The plane was among six of 30 Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets the rapidly expanding carrier has ordered.