Visit to Ethiopian plane crash site leaves Kenyan families perplexed

She buried her head in her hands. Her neighbor also sat still and stared into the emptiness outside the 30-seater van. Those with sunglasses pulled them out of their bags and covered their eyes. But the horror of what they had seen remained implanted on their faces.

The first 30 minutes of the drive back to the hotel from the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight302 where 157 people perished was the hardest.

It was time to let what they had just seen and heard sink in in its rawness.

The aircraft came down like a rocket, hit the ground and was decimated into tiny pieces. The 10-metre crater created by the impact was still fresh.


They had touched the coarse black cotton soil and carried handfuls with them. Some picked smaller pieces of the plane wreckage still not yet collected by a team of forensic experts clearing the scene. A pile of the wreckage stands on the left side of the depression.

Before scooping the soil, they were allowed time to pray and mourn their loved ones.

A small ark has been built at the site, where relatives placed their flowers. It has grown into a small mountain of flowers. Some are wilting as fresh ones come in. Other mourners came with pictures and placed them at the site temporarily.

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Friday was the turn of relatives of the 32 Kenyans who died in the crash to visit the site. Airline officials allowed bunches of five to go to the site after it emerged that some mourners had attempted to jump into the depression after they were overwhelmed by emotions.

One of the mourners could not understand why not even a human skull was available for them to take home.


But the biggest question on most minds was whether they should go ahead and use the soil for mock funerals that await them back home, or wait for DNA analysis on body parts to be complete before doing a proper ceremony.

The latter is much harder after it emerged that it will take at least six months to release the results of over 5,000 samples taken from the site for testing.

“Mourners have been gathering at our home since Sunday afternoon when we got the news. They are waiting for me to take back home something for the burial. But if we bury the soil, what will we do with the remains when they hand them back to us?” Ms Prudence Lwugi, who lost her brother in the crash, poses.

Her brother, Derrick Lwugi, 54, an accountant with a firm based in Canada, was travelling back home.


At a briefing, relatives of the victims were told it would take 26 weeks for the DNA to be taken through the three steps of sampling, analysis and then matching and association stages, a proposal that was rejected.

It also emerged that Ethiopia did not have the labs to do the tests locally.

For Ms Mary Yongi, who lost her sister Florence Wangare Yongi, consultations will be done between her family in Nakuru and the Order of Catholic Missionaries based in Congo, where the nun was working.

“My sister was a missionary and the decision on how to bury her will need more consultations,” she said, adding that her family in Subukia, Nakuru County, was devastated by the loss.

Ms Christine Nduati, who lost her mother, said her family just wanted to go home and deal with what awaits them. Some proposed a mass burial at the crash site.


Mr Lucas Nzioka, who lost his nephew Benard Musembi, thinks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should organise official soil sample transportation with a small portion put in 32 small boxes, each with the name of a victim.

“We can then receive the boxes at the airport, put them in coffins and have a mass at Uhuru Park then have the families transport the coffins for burial,” he said.

“We now know for a fact that it is not possible to get anything from this site,” Mr Musembi said.

When we arrive at the hotel, the chaos witnessed the previous day has been replaced by calmness. The tension is gone.

The families of victims of the crash do not need to be told how the site looks anymore. They silently go through the metal detectors and disappear into the privacy of their rooms.

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