Flight 302 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. The aircraft took off from Addis Ababa at 08:38 local time (05:38 UTC) with 149 passengers and 8 crew on board. One minute into the flight, the first officer, acting on the instructions of the captain, reported a “flight control” problem to the control tower. Two minutes into the flight, the plane's MCAS system activated, pitching the plane into a dive toward the ground. The pilots struggled to control it and managed to prevent the nose from diving further, but the plane continued to lose altitude. The MCAS then activated again, dropping the nose even further down. The pilots then flipped a pair of switches to disable the electrical trim tab system, which also disabled the MCAS software. However, in shutting off the electrical trim system, they also shut off their ability to trim the stabilizer into a neutral position with the electrical switch on the top of their control wheels. The only other possible way to move the stabilizer would be by cranking the wheel by hand, but because the stabilizer was located opposite to the elevator, strong aerodynamic forces were pushing on it. As the pilots had inadvertently left the engines on at full takeoff power, which caused the plane to accelerate at high speed, there was further pressure on the stabilizer. The pilots' attempts to manually crank the stabilizer back into position but failed. Three minutes into the flight, with the aircraft continuing to lose altitude and accelerating beyond its safety limits, the captain instructed the first officer to request permission from air traffic control to return to the airport. Permission was granted, and the air traffic controllers diverted other approaching flights. Following instructions from air traffic control, they turned the aircraft to the east, and it rolled to the right. The right wing came to point down as the turn steepened. At 8:43, having struggled to keep the plane's nose from diving further by manually pulling the control wheel, the captain asked the first officer to help him, and turned the electrical trim tab system back on in the hope that it would allow him to put the stabilizer back into neutral trim. However, in turning the trim system back on, he also reactivated the MCAS system, which pushed the nose further down. The captain and first officer attempted to raise the nose by manually pulling their control wheels, but the aircraft continued to plunge toward the ground.
The aircraft disappeared from radar screens and crashed at almost 08:44, six minutes after takeoff, having reached an altitude of about 7,000 feet Above Ground Level. Flight tracking data showed that the aircraft's altitude and rate of climb and descent were fluctuating. Several witnesses stated the plane trailed "white smoke" and made strange noises before crashing. The aircraft impacted the ground at nearly 700 mph. There were no survivors.
It crashed in the woreda (district) of Gimbichu, Oromia Region, in a farm field near the town of Bishoftu, 62 kilometres (39 mi) southeast of Bole International Airport. The impact created a crater about 90 feet wide and 120 feet long, and wreckage was driven up to 30 feet deep into the soil. Wreckage was strewn around the field along with personal effects and body parts.