How to verify that these three viral videos aren’t from the Ethiopian Airlines crash

Several videos claiming to show the cabin of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 moments before the crash circulated widely social media.
Several videos claiming to show the cabin of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 moments before the crash circulated widely social media.

An Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed on 10 March while flying from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. As is common with major disasters such as this one, videos and photos claiming to show the cabin moments before the crash quickly circulated online. We’ve rounded up the top three videos being shared by people claiming to show flight ET302 – and we explain why they’re false.


1. Look closely at the details, like the time of day and aircraft’s seat plan

This video appears to be the most widely shared. It is a video taken on a smartphone by a passenger on an Ethiopian Airlines flight. A number of different Facebook pages have shared it, with one post getting over 300,000 views.

In the video, which is almost a minute long, one can hear babies crying. The man filming turns the phone around to face himself at one point, and then continues to pan over the rest of the cabin. The passengers are equipped with yellow oxygen masks, and seem calm and unpanicked. Air hostesses are walking down the aisles and stopping to speak with those seated.

Is this an Ethiopian Airlines flight? The answer to that is yes – look out for details as the camera pans around. About three seconds in, the passenger behind the man filming leans forward, and in doing so reveals the logo on the headrest of his seat: the distinctive green, yellow and red wing logo of the airline. 

>> Read on The Observers: Fake images of Indonesia plane crash shared online

But there are other clues that this video isn’t from the flight that crashed on 10 March. First of all, the window blinds are open, showing that it’s dark outside. The Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed took off from Addis Ababa at 8.38am local time – so there would have been sunlight.

What else seems off? Some of the passengers have their tray-tables down, with food still on plastic trays in front of them. Flight ET302 crashed six minutes after take-off. There’s no way an airline would have been able to serve food to its passengers and for them to eat the food in six minutes – on top of the fact that it is unlikely that an airline would serve a meal so early into the flight.

Now let’s get slightly more technical. Another clue is the aircraft’s layout. The flight that crashed was a Boeing 737 Max-8 – a quick search on the internet shows that it’s a narrow-body aircraft that has two ranks of seats, three on each side, with an aisle in the middle. The aircraft in this video has two aisles, meaning it’s a bigger aircraft, like a Boeing 737-8 Dreamliner.

And now for one of the most obvious features of the video: the bright yellow oxygen masks that the passengers – and the person taking the video – are wearing. This is another clue that this is a Dreamliner, since on these aircrafts the oxygen masks do not drop down with a bag as in other aircraft designs, just a ‘Dixie cup’ (the yellow cup that goes over the nose and mouth), and a tube, which you can clearly see in the video.

On commercial flights, oxygen masks descend automatically if the plane loses cabin pressurisation over an altitude of 14,000 feet. According to flight tracker Flight Radar 24, Flight ET302 climbed to just over 8,000 feet – not high enough for the oxygen masks to automatically drop down.

Data from flight tracker Flight Radar 24 shows that the Ethiopian Airlines flight reached just over 8,000 feet.

These details all prove that the video does not show the inside of Flight ET302 before it crashed. However, we have been unable to find the exact origin of the video. We’ll update this page if and when we do.


2. Listen to the pilot’s announcement

This video, which has over 90,000 views, was filmed on a smartphone at the back of a plane and shows panicked passengers praying as the footage shakes through the plane’s turbulence. It was posted on Facebook by an unreliable source, which frequently publishes non-verified content, and its caption includes an Islamic prayer.

We’ve seen this video before – people have even shared it trying to pass it off for a different air crash, that of the EgyptAir Airbus A320, which crashed into the Mediterranean in May 2016.  

One of the most obvious clues that this doesn’t show the Ethiopia Airlines flight is the pilot’s announcement at the end of the video: “Ladies and gentleman, we have landed in Jakarta. Please remain seated with your seatbelts securely fastened.” This was an Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta, on 5 May 2016.

>> Read on The Observers: How we debunked a fake EgyptAir crash video


3. Read the comments

One video posted on Twitter and viewed over 23,000 times was taken from the inside of a car, which shows a plane veering dangerously in the sky before dropping rapidly and crashing next to the road.

This was easy to debunk simply by reading the comments underneath the video. A number of people replied to the post, saying that it was an old video and showed not the Ethiopian Airlines plane, but a cargo plane. A Google search using the keywords ‘cargo plane crash’ brings up the same video on several news websites. According to The Guardian, the video dates from 2013 and shows a Boeing 747 US cargo plane exploding after a dramatic crash near the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

>> Check out our Verification Guide to see how to verify online images: How do I verify an online video?


This article was written by Catherine Bennett (@cfbennett2).