Crash victims kin, airline meet turns chaotic, aborts

Seth Onyango in Addis Ababa @PeopleDailyKe

A meeting between representatives of Ethiopian Airlines and families of those who perished in the devastating Sunday plane crash aborted prematurely yesterday. This was after the families turned rowdy and demanded to see the remains of their loved ones.

Tempers began flaring after relatives of the victims discovered that forensic examination of the charred remains of their kin had not commenced.

Families that had hoped to get emotional and psychological closure after matching their DNA with the human remains obtained from the crash site were confronted with a rude shock that a forensic examination may not be done after all.

Vice President of Ethiopian Airlines Mesay Shiferaw did little to reassure them, as he remained non-committal about the identification process, triggering the protest.

He reportedly told families that the airline management’s hands were tied since the DNA identification process fell within the purview of the police and forensic experts.

It was at this point that the families stormed out of the meeting, as they demanded clarity from the authorities on whether remains will be identified.

Kenyan authorities were, however, quick to organise a meeting with their compatriots to contain the situation that was fast getting out of hand.

And in candid admission, Ethiopian Airlines’ Elisabeth Ekatho, who briefed the meeting, informed the families that the process of identifying the bodies will take much longer and called for patience.

“There is no easy way to say this. Can we identify them by sight? No. We can only do it through DNA and based on expert opinion that will take time and even at the end some remains will not be identified…that’s the reality,” she said.

Kenya’s ambassador to Ethiopia Catherine Mwangi and her deputy George Orina chaired the meeting. Frustration from families began boiling on Wednesday when families were denied access to the actual plane crash site.

Rajab Swale, who lost his brother, former Football Kenya Federation (FKF) general secretary Hussein Swaleh, had insisted that seeing the actual site of impact would give them the much-needed closure to move to another phase of mourning.

“There is no managerial presence (here) whatsoever. They are very confused… we want clarity on DNA and won’t leave until these issues are addressed,” he said.  

At around 2.30pm, a group of Kenyans arrived at Skylight Hotel, the epicentre of all activities surrounding the plane crash.

And later in the evening, a requiem mass in honour of the victims was held at Addis Ababa Orthodox Church.

As the bereaved seek closure after the tragedy, Ethiopian authorities had earlier said they do not have the equipment to analyse the black boxes from the accident.

Yesterday, the black boxes were reportedly sent to France for analysis.

The plane that was heading to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, crashed about 50km outside the Ethiopian capital, six minutes after taking off.

All 157 people on board died.

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