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Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  Some 50 people sit in tense silence underneath a white tent outside a gated house on the southern outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

The women are dressed in plain mourning black; the men mostly in white. 

But the lull doesn’t last long. A chorus of loud wails soon pierces the air, as the women start rocking back and forth, their hands covering their faces. Nearby, the men stare blankly at the concrete floor.

This group of mourners in the city’s Kaliti neighbourhood are relatives and friends of Elisabeth Minwyelet, one of the eight Ethiopia Airlines crew members killed in a plane crash on Sunday morning.

Flight ET 302, en route to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, came crashing down six minutes after take-off, killing all 157 people on board. 

Minwyelet, 29, was meant to return to her husband and son on Sunday night. She had only become a mother less than a year ago.

“She is the love of my life. She is the mother of my 10-month-old son,” Bayih Demessie, Elisabeth’s husband, says, his eyes red from days of non-stop crying. 

Families are mourning the loss of their loved ones and waiting for remains to be returned [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

The couple had met in school and were together for the last eight years – the best of their young lives, according to 30-year-old Bayih.

“She is the most amazing person I have ever met,” Bayih, who married Minwyelet two years ago, says. “She loved our son and was looking forward to seeing him that night.”

Refusing to believe that his wife was on board the crashed Boeing 737 MAX 8, Bayih went to Bole airport to pick her up – as they had agreed to when she’d gone to work that fateful morning. 

“I will do anything to bring her back to me and our son. There is nothing I can do to bring her back,” he says.

As investigations continue, Minwyelet’s family are still waiting to receive her remains from the crash site, which was littered with plane debris and the personal belongings of the victims.

The wait is expected to last for days.

Investigations are ongoing as to what caused Sunday’s crash [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

The devastating crash has touched every corner of this city of more than three million people – perhaps nowhere more that in Enkulal Fabrika, the Addis Ababa neighbourhood housing the offices of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

The humanitarian aid organisation lost four employees in the disaster. 

“We are shocked,” Felicity Loowe, the CRS’s head of operations in Ethiopia, says, her voice cracking with emotions. “We are thinking about our colleagues and we miss them.”

At least two of the staff – Genet Alemayehu and Sara Chalachew – had worked for the charity for more than nine years. On Sunday, they were travelling to the Kenyan capital for training.

At the entrance of the charity’s offices, flowers and candles have been placed in memory of those who perished in the crash.

“They were incredibly well-respected and valued in the organisation. They were well-known and well-loved by everyone. They were very strong, dedicated and committed individuals. We will really miss them,” Loowe adds. 

‘Still in shock’

Nineteen United Nations employees were on the flight. Many were going to Nairobi to attend a UN environmental conference.

Ekta Adhikari, a 28-year-old Nepali national who worked for the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP), the UN food agency, was among them.

“We are still in shock as this sudden tragedy. Ekta was a dedicated and talented young woman and we knew her as a vibrant, enthusiastic person who brought joy to our office,” Pippa Bradford, WFP Nepal country director, says.

“Our hearts go out to her family, loved-ones and friends, wishing them strength in this moment of extraordinary pain and loss,” Bradford adds.

In total, the agency lost seven staff members.

 

The victims of Sunday’s crash were from 35 nationalities and included tourists, students, scientists and scholars. Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian-born professor and award-winning writer, was one of 18 Canadians killed.

The husband and father-of-two daughters was one of the brains behind the creation of the Institute of African Studies at Carlton University in Ottawa.

“He worked tirelessly to build the Institute of African Studies, to share his boundless passion for African literature and to connect with and support students,” Pauline Rankin, head of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says of Adesanmi.

In Ethiopia, the quest for answers about what led the Boeing jet to crash is ongoing. An increasing number of countries and carriers, including Ethiopian Airlines, have grounded all planes of the 737 MAX model.

On Tuesday, the UK banned the aircraft from operating in or over its airspace. The country’s Civil Aviation Authority said the step was taken as a “precautionary measure”. 

Germany and France followed suit.

But in Addis Ababa’s Kaliti neighbourhood, the grounding of the plane is of no consequence.

“Nothing will give me back my wife,” Bayih says.

“Nothing will bring back my son’s mother. Our lives will never be the same again.”

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