Families of air crash victims return home without any clue of getting bodies of their departed relatives

Distraught relatives of the victims at the crash site of the Ethiopian Airlines plane on March 14. [AFP]

Dejected Kenyan families who went to Ethiopia in search of closure over the death of their kin returned home disappointed, empty handed with hearts aching even more.

They got so close to the crash site, but unable to surmount the distance between them and the departed.

Those who spoke to Saturday Standard said they expected some level of comfort from accessing the crash site where their kin lost their lives.

Instead, Ethiopia deployed its military to keep everyone away from the partly cordoned off site, insisting that the integrity of the accident scene had to be preserved at all costs.

However, while mourning family members were informed of this protocol, dogs freely roamed the area and villagers grazed their cattle with little bother.

By Friday, the accident scene had been closed off completely to visitors. Many are still wondering why they had to make the costly journey, a decision premised on one a falsehood after another.

Israel deployed tens of officials for the search and rescue mission, to sift through the debris in the hope of recovering bodies of two of its citizens who perished.

Their efforts too ended in frustration. A Muslim family that lost their mother and her son, for instance, traveled from different capitals of the world in Canada, South Africa and Australia – for what they hoped would be a last interaction with their dead kin.

Their rush to the accident scene is informed by their faith that requires that the dead be buried within 24 hours, and no more than 48 hours – in very extreme scenarios.

Friday, they flew back home – closure eluding them, forever out of reach, slipping through their fingers like the dry wind that blew over the accident scene.

Dealing with the loss was not expected to be easy, but the families say the authorities in the twin capitals of Nairobi and Addis Ababa only exacerbated an already precarious situation.

New information on the tragic crash shows that the plane was in trouble as soon as it took off from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, even as family members return home empty handed.

An investigation by American newspaper New York Times shows that controllers at Bole observed that the aircraft, a new Boeing 737 Max 8, was oscillating up and down by hundreds of feet — a sign that something was extraordinarily wrong.

This was even before the pilot communicated to the control tower requesting permission to turn back in what sources close to the investigation termed as “a panicky voice” barely three minutes after the plane had taken off.

“Break break, request back to home,” the captain is said to have told air traffic controllers. “Request vector for landing.”

While it was clear from mid-morning Sunday that there were no survivors, a supposed recovery of bodies from the accident scene held promises. Promises that the families desperately clung on to as they made their way to the Ethiopian capital.

What followed was a string of contradictions including that the recovered body parts had been secured in a mortuary, waiting for collection by families upon scientific identification.

A glimpse of another promise. A promise that turned out to be a straw that the families again grabbed on to.

It was not until the family members arrived that the body parts went “missing”, compounding the pain and agony for many. The narrative was that what had been recovered was no more than smithereens from the victims’ bodies, insignificant for any DNA analysis.

Still, the mourners kept up with the lies and requested to be shown around the morgue – the closest they would ever get to the bodies of the departed parents, siblings or children.

It did not happen; in any case it was only a matter of time before the majority, worn off from uncertain waiting would go back home.

To a large extent, the authorities were right. By Thursday morning, the frustration had got out of hand and the victims’ family members put their foot down, this time around. A meeting called by the airline authorities aborted just a few minutes after kicking off, prompting the intervention of security officials who roughed up louder protesters.

As the tempers cooled off towards the afternoon, tens of other mourning family members arrived, the first batch of beneficiaries of the airline-sponsored travel.

Many are thought to be parents to the victims who perished, going by their ageing looks, taking their first flight ever on a mission they would only shudder to imagine – looking for the bodies of family members.

They just missed a morning meeting with Ethiopian Airlines authorities and the Kenyan Embassy in the city, but in time for another where the scientists started collecting samples for onward DNA matching.

The heated morning meeting gave a pointer to the tough days ahead for both the families and the Ethiopian Government over the unresolved accident that cost 157 lives, with Kenyan citizens as the single biggest group of casualties.

Hundreds of the grieving families had demanded answers on when the remains would be released and the progress of identification.

But the airline officials informed them that none of that was their responsibility, instead passing the buck to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health – which received and secured the body parts, and the Ethiopian Police.

Remains of the victims are believed to be currently stored at the Menelik Hospital Mortuary in the city- but there has been no independent confirmation.

Several of the families that managed to reach the “graveside” collected soil that they plan to bury back home in symbolic funerals

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