Relatives fly to Addis to identify bodies of crash victims

Process will take at least five days, airline official say

In Summary

• Ethiopian Airlines last evening flew 64 relatives

• By yesterday seven families were yet to be contacted

Man holds passengers' passports (two Kenyan and one American) found at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa.
REMAINS: Man holds passengers' passports (two Kenyan and one American) found at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Airlines last evening flew 64 relatives of the Kenyans who died in the Sunday plane crash to Addis to identify bodies.

They were received by Transport PS Esther Koimett and embassy staff, led by ambassador Catherine Mwangi. They booked into hotels in the Ethiopian capital. 

The ET302 flight crash claimed 157 lives, including eight crew members. It crashed six minutes after takeoff in Bishoftu, some 60km southeast of Bole International Airport.

Kenya suffered the greatest fatalities, 32. The plane was heading to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. By yesterday, the government had contacted relatives of 25 Kenyans.

Transport CS James Macharia on Monday said efforts were being made to contact seven families who were yet to be reached.

The airline's manager in charge of Kenyan operations, Yilma Gobena, said they were willing to help with travel arrangements and accommodation for the bereaved families.

“Concerning families and relatives who’d like to travel, we’re ready to assist to take them to Addis, give them accommodation, then constant updates will be given from the other side,” Gobena told the media.

This morning, Ethiopian Airlines and government officials are expected to brief the relatives on the state of affairs.

"It’s a difficult moment for the friends and relatives so we are doing our best to provide all the information as we get it," Koimett said.

Israel and South Africa have sent forensic experts to help with the identification.

Due to the impact and ensuing fire, the identification of some remains could take weeks or months and may need to be done via dental records or DNA, an industry expert told Reuters.

The family members are expected to give DNA samples to be matched with those of the deceased.

The process will be complicated because the passengers came from more than 30 countries and Ethiopia has limited forensic capabilities, the expert added, asking not to be named.

“The process of identifying the victims will take at least five days,” Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw told reporters in Addis Ababa yesterday.

“Families will be notified.”

Noordin Mohamed, a 27-year-old Kenyan businessman, said his family had no information about when they might be able to bury his brother and mother. The mother is a dual British-Kenyan citizen.

“We are Muslim and have to bury our deceased immediately. Now we cannot even recover any bodies,” he told Reuters in Nairobi.

“Losing a brother and mother on the same day and not having their bodies to bury is very painful.”

 Abuhamza Yusuf, a relative of the late Abdullahi Mohamed, yesterday told the Star the family was devastated by the news and had gathered together in their Kibra home but had yet to be informed of any progress made in the recovery process.

“The much we have been told is that it could take days to identify of the remains. The airline says this is because the crash caused a big impact and scattered bodies and debris of the plane,” Yusuf said.

Kelvin Karanja, a brother of Caroline Karanja who died alongside her three children and mother (Ann Karanja), said their family had opted not to go to Ethiopia, despite the offer. They will wait for further information.

Karanja said the family was preparing a requiem mass in the absence of the bodies to ease the pain caused by the loss.