The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed on the morning of March 10 had issued a distress call,  according to comments made by Ethiopian Airlines group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam.

"From the air traffic control records, the pilot said that he was having difficulties and wanted to return. He was given clearance to return to Addis," Gebremariam said, speaking at a press conference in Addis Ababa.

He added that the aircraft had arrived at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport on a flight from Johannesburg around 06:00am local time on Sunday. No maintenance problems had been reported with the aircraft. It had been delivered  on Nov. 15 2018 and had clocked up more than 1,000 hours with the airline in the intervening four months.

The aircraft's captain was a senior pilot with more than 8,000 hours, said the CEO. He had worked with Ethiopian since July 2010, had been a captain on Boeing 737s since Nov. 2017 and had "an excellent flying record."

Gebremariam confirmed that the aircraft had taken off at 8.38 local and had crashed just six minutes later.

Expressing his condolences, to the families and friends of those who died, he added: "Today is a very sad and tragic day for all of us at Ethiopian."

The Boeing 737 MAX 8, registered ET-AVJ was operating as flight ET302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, when it crashed near to Bishoftu in Ethiopia, claiming the lives of all 157 onboard.

Alan Dron