The "highly suspicious" tragedy marks the second deadly crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane in five months

By Maria Pasquini
March 11, 2019 01:39 PM
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All 157 passengers aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 were killed in Sunday’s devastating crash, as the tragedy claimed the lives of people from at least 35 countries.

CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said at a press conference over the weekend that the flight — which crashed en route to Kenya within six minutes after takeoff — was carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members from numerous countries, including 32 Kenyans; 18 Canadians; nine Ethiopians; eight each from the U.S., China and Italy; and seven each from Great Britain and France.

Among those killed on the flight were 22 United Nations staff members, according to CNN. The outlet went on to note that the flight has been nicknamed a “UN shuttle,” owing to its route between Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the African Union headquarters are located, and Nairobi, Kenya, home of the UN’s headquarters in Africa.

According to the outlet, the flight was particularly full on Sunday, as a UN Environment Assembly began on Monday.

At the beginning of Monday’s assembly, delegates held a moment of silence for the victims, the New York Times reported.

“The @UN has lost many great & hardworking personnel. May they RIP,” UN Habitat executive director Maimunah Mohd Sharif wrote on Twitter, as she shared a clip from her remarks addressing the organization’s tragic loss.

Although the names of the victims have yet to be confirmed by authorities, the late UN members are beginning to be memorialized by their peers online.

Manuel Barange, director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s fisheries and aquaculture, mourned the loss of his college Joanna Toole, a British citizen who was traveling to represent the department.

“So profoundly sad and lost for words at the loss of our wonderful @FAOfish officer @JoannaToole, who was on her way to represent @faofish at the #UNEA meeting in Nairobi on #ET302,” he wrote on Twitter. “A wonderful human being, who loved her work with a passion. Our love to her family and loved ones.”

According to a statement from the UN Department of Safety and Security in Kenya, seven members of the World Food Programme and two members of the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees and the International Telecommunications Union were killed. Additionally, six staff members from the UN Office in Nairobi and one member each from three additional agencies perished in the crash.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres went on to offer “heartfelt condolences” to all of those who had lost loved ones.

Several humanitarian aid workers were also killed in the crash.

Four of the nine Ethiopians killed in the crash worked for Catholic Relief Services, and were en route to Nairobi for training, according to a statement from the CRS.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that four members of our staff were killed,” the humanitarian agency shared in a statement naming the victims: Sara Chalachew, Getnet Alemayehu, Sintayehu Aymeku and Mulusew Alemu.

The Nigerian government also confirmed the death of former ambassador Abiodun Bashua, who had been working with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, according to the New York Times.

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The victims of the crash also included two professors from Kenya’s Kenyatta University and Italian underwater archaeologist Sebastiano Tusa, according to the New York Times.

Former Secretary General of Kenya’s Football Federation Hussein Swaleh was also killed, as was Cedric Asiavugwa, a Kenyan third-year law student at Georgetown University, who volunteered with the Red Cross in his free time, reported CNN.

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In a press release on Monday, Ethiopian Airlines announced that both the plane’s Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) had been recovered. These two devices will help investigators determine the cause of the crash.

In a press conference over the weekend, Ethiopian Airlines said it received the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, described as “brand new,” in November.

The Guardian reported that the pilot experienced technical problems and asked to return to the airport before the control tower lost contact with the plane.

Citing flight data, tracking website Flightradar24 tweeted that the plane experienced unstable vertical speed after taking off.

During Sunday’s press conference, Gebremariam said that a routine maintenance check ahead of takeoff didn’t show any problems with the plane and that the experienced captain, Yared Getachew, had an “excellent flying record,” according to the outlet. Getachew, a Canadian-European man, had been with the company since July 2010 and had more than 8,000 hours under his belt, Gebremariam said.

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A Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, the same model in Sunday’s crash, went down last year after taking off from Jakarta. All 189 people aboard the Lion Air flight were killed.

In light of the most recent Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crash, Boeing shares dropped by over 12 percent after trading opened on Monday, and at least 22 airlines have grounded the planes, according to the New York Times.

CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo, who previously worked as the inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department, called the two crashes “highly suspicious.”

“Here we have a brand-new aircraft that’s gone down twice in a year. That rings alarm bells in the aviation industry, because that just doesn’t happen,” she said.

A spokesperson for Boeing — which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment — told the Washington Post via email, “The investigation is in its early stages, but at this point, based on the information available, we do not have any basis to issue new guidance to operators.”

“Boeing is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a 737 MAX 8 airplane,” Boeing said in a statement on Sunday. “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board and stand ready to support the Ethiopian Airlines team. A Boeing technical team will be traveling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.”