In Summary
  • Dozens of Kenyans arrived here on Thursday hoping to return with the remains of their loved ones, but Ethiopian authorities had a bombshell announcement for them: There might not be any remains.

  • And they might not even be allowed to scoop soil from the crash site as a ritual of closure.

  • Kenyan families want to carry home soil samples from the Ethiopian crash site.

ADDIS ABABA

The lavish swimming pool remained idle, the water rippling in the faint Addis breeze. The sumptuous buffet in the restaurant went untouched, the polished cutlery unused. A Chinese couple broke down in a corner of the expansive lobby, unable to contain the horror of emotions boiling inside their chests. Grieving strangers moved to comfort each other in hugs and uneasy embraces. Counsellors lined the corridors. Tension wafted to the high ceiling. And then there was pain. Such unspeakable, unimaginable pain.

CONFRONTATION

Welcome to Skylight Hotel in Addis Ababa, where families of the victims of last Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash are being hosted. Dozens of Kenyans arrived here on Thursday hoping to return with the remains of their loved ones, but Ethiopian authorities had a bombshell announcement for them: There might not be any remains to bury. And they might not even be allowed to scoop soil from the crash site as a ritual of closure.

The grieving families were last evening coming to terms with the reality that there was nothing to take back home, hoping against hope that a miracle would happen. Their Ethiopian hosts looked on as the tears turned into anger that quickly morphed into anxiety. Every now and then the potent mix of fury and desperation would erupt into a confrontation within the hotel, which would swiftly be quelled by guards.

A Kenyan man whose wife was one of the 157 who perished in the Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 accident said he was tired of being hosted in a hotel. He wanted answers, not hospitality, he said. “If there are no remains, they should allow us to carry soil samples from the crash site for funeral rights,” he added. The Nation is not naming the widower on his request because, he said, Ethiopian officials have warned relatives of victims against talking to the media.

DEBRIS

“I do not want to disparage the hospitality, but we are concerned that the site is now cordoned off and we must get permission from the police to be allowed access,” he said soon after leading a walkout from one of the two-heated meetings yesterday that ended in chaos.

He said they were not told much in Nairobi, “only that we will be accommodated and flown here to be given answers, only to come here and not get any answers”.

“It’s been frustrating,” he said.

They will be accommodated in Addis Ababa for seven days, with the possibility of an extension on request. Their flight fares and accommodation are courtesy of the airline.

At the crash site near the small village of Bishoftu, 60 kilometres south of the capital, investigators were still gathering tiny pieces of what was left of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. Very little that could be used to identify the victims has been recovered so far.

Other than the plane debris, the crash site was strewn with torn passports, books, clothing, personal-care items, and a mobile phone that would not stop ringing.

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