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Horror of crash hits victims’ kin in Addis

Seth Onyango in Addis Ababa @PeopleDailyKe

Wails, muffled screams and prayers rent the air in Tulu Fera, the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash which killed all 157 people on board, 32 of them Kenyans, as families of the victims came face to face with the magnitude of the tragedy yesterday.

In Tulu Fera in Ejere District on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the tears of victims’ kin drenched the fresh soil that was being scooped by those trying to retrieve the bodies, some of which were buried six metres deep as the Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane nose-dived.

So far, the retrieval of bodies has yielded little: strands of hair, a hand, a toe…all piling up the pain of not just the loss, but also of never having anything for the final ritual, for burial, for closure.

Last respects

In the mass grave of some sorts are buried, not just lives, but careers and dreams, families robbed of a father, a mother, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a neighbour, a friend…

Some family members began to pay their last respects to their kin by lighting candles and laying flowers on a table covered in white roses.

It was on this table that their pain was laid bare —it might be the only thing close to a coffin that would symbolise the death of their kin.

It is the reality that nearly every family which suffered a loss in the tragedy is confronting. A British forensic expert told People Daily that the largest body part recovered was a piece of hand.

Grieving families, he said, might have to wait for weeks before all human remains are collected from the scene for DNA analysis.

“Let us be honest. You are here and you have seen the impact of the crash. What can you fetch from that?” posed the source.

Amos Mbicha, who lost his sister Stella with her son in the crash, walked to the table and was overwhelmed with emotion as he laid flowers in honour of his sister.

He had earlier told People Daily that his sister, who was married to a Polish, was coming home to see them during a brief vacation when she met her death.

Counselling session

“It is like the entire family is gone,” he said.

People Daily has also learned that a session has been organised between families and counsellors, the objective being to divulge the painful news that they may not have anything to bury.

The session will include forensic experts who will try to convince the families that the nature of crash left nothing to salvage for burial, the source said.

A Chinese family, as if having come to terms with this reality, picked sand and debris from the crash site, put it in a box and left. An Asian journalist told us that is what would be used in the burial rituals.

Black boxes

Shredded remains of the plane were covered before family members arrived to shield them from the horror of the tragedy.

At the same time, Ethiopian authorities have said they do not have the equipment to analyse the black boxes from the accident and are considering sending them abroad.

“It could be sent abroad because there is no equipment to read it here,” said spokesman Biniyam Demssie.

The airline’s chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam earlier told CNN the black boxes would have to be examined outside the country, in a destination to be chosen by investigators — possibly the United States or “a closer country in Europe in the interest of proximity and in the interest of speed.”

Numerous countries have banned Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 jet from their airspace after the crash.

The Nairobi-bound plane was the same type as the Indonesian Lion Air jet that crashed in October, killing 189 passengers and crew. Some experts have detected similarities between the two accidents.

Tewolde said Ethiopian Airlines pilots had been retrained on the MAX 8 following the Lion Air crash.

“There is very significant similarities on the two accidents. There are a lot of questions to be answered on the airplane,” he told CNN.

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