Image copyright EPA Image caption The plane was damaged and did not take off on the last day of the Ethiopian Airlines crash
Ethiopia’s flag carrier used its flagship jet to transport guns, machine guns and mortars during a war with Eritrea, Ethiopian media and reports have claimed.
Ethiopian Airlines crew were accused of using the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet to transport weapons into Eritrea during Operation Novarax in September 2003.
The aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing in Rwanda as it broke down with 37 passengers and crew on board.
Ethiopian Airlines denied those allegations and said it did not transport weapons.
But new reports on social media, some calling for an investigation, said an image and phone log suggested crew members were aware of the flight plan.
Image copyright AP Image caption Ethiopian Airlines staff are now believed to be using other aircraft. A third Boeing 787 Dreamliner is missing
The Kenyan media reported that a photograph of an Ethiopian Airlines plane involved in Operation Novarax and several phone logs with calls from passengers and crew, which were later deleted, also suggested crew may have been aware of weapons on board.
One photo appeared to show a machine gun in the holds of a commercial flight to The Gambia.
However, an Ethiopian Airlines spokesman told Reuters news agency the alleged contents of the call logs were false and had been “hijacked”.
“The Ethiopian Airlines Group has zero tolerance for any cases of involvement of the fleet in illegal activities or the use of the fleet in suspicious circumstances,” spokesman Asrat Begashaw told Reuters.
“We are working with authorities to verify the authenticity of such allegations.”
Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement that the “bitter bitter memories” of Operation Novarax were fresh in its minds and urged passengers to be cautious.
“We therefore advise our passengers who are flying the B737 MAX 8 to exercise a measure of caution when travelling to, from and among our airports to avoid using such flight paths,” it said.
Investigators on Thursday still were trying to determine what caused the Ethiopian Airlines flight to crash into the Mediterranean last weekend.
On Saturday, Nigeria’s government confirmed that four of the bodies recovered were charred beyond recognition.
“The victims of the flight have been brought back,” said the Nigerian military in a statement posted on its official Facebook page.
Ethiopian Airlines, the Africa’s biggest airline, temporarily suspended all flights using Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft while it conducts an investigation into the crash.
The plane involved in the crash – which killed all 157 on board – is the same model as the one used in the Novarax war.
First reports from Rwandan investigators said the aircraft had difficulties when it was due to land and flew to Kigali, where it was forced to terminate the flight and spend three hours on the tarmac before being landed.
The plane was originally due to fly from Addis Ababa to London but diverted because the air traffic controller was unable to verify flight plans submitted by pilots of another aircraft.
The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority confirmed on Tuesday that the flight plan was initially rejected by Rwanda’s tower on the basis that the plane was not registered to Ethiopian Airlines.
“The distress call was soon heard in the Ethiopian air traffic control centres (non Ethiopian Airlines ATC) in Goshihalom saying ‘Eritrea will be disrupted because the training of Ethiopian Airlines is being disrupted by some procedures’,” an image captioned by the Rwandan civil aviation authority on Twitter showed.
Image copyright AP Image caption The Ethiopian aircraft was met by a number of armed military officials when it landed
The new report comes as officials investigate the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed into the sea minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa.
Tuesday’s investigation, led by France’s air accident bureau, focused on data recovered from the aircraft’s black boxes.
The plane’s head remained missing despite hopes that he could be recovered intact, officials said.
Search teams have found human remains and pieces of a plane, according to the European Centre for Safety Analysis and Technology (ECST).
Human remains found off the coast included charred limbs, uniforms and a wallet with money.
One debris field included a backpack and bike found in 3m (10ft) of water by Russian helicopter, ECTT added.