Rescue workers on scene of Ethiopian Airlines crash
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Antonis Mavropoulus watched others board the flight that later went down, killing all 157 aboard, but was held back at the gate because he was running late

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March 11, 2019 07:03 PM

Running late for his Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on Sunday, a Greek man watched the last passengers board ahead of him but was turned back at the gate due to his delay.

The rejection saved his life, the man, Antonis Mavropoulus, reveals in an emotional Facebook post.

Six minutes after takeoff, the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane departed from Bole International Airport and crashed about 40 miles southeast of the Ethiopian capital. All 157 people on board, including eight Americans, were killed, airline officials said.

When Mavropoulus learned the news, “I collapsed because then I just realized I was lucky,” he wrote, according to an online translation of his message.

Mavropoulus is believed to be the only official passenger to miss the flight. Another man, Ahmed Khalid, told the BBC he has missed his flight to Addis Ababa, so was given a later connection to Nairobi.

The post by Mavropoulus, written in Greek and which he titled “MY LUCKY DAY,” included an image of his boarding pass and described his scramble to make the 8:15 a.m. flight.

“When I arrived, boarding was closed and I watched the last passengers in (the) tunnel go in. I was screaming to put me on but they didn’t allow it,” he wrote, saying he was just two minutes late.

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Angered but helped by “courteous” airport staffers, he was booked on a later flight and directed to a lounge for a three-hour wait. But as he tried to board that later flight, he was again stopped by clerks at the gate. “My intense protests left no room for debate and led them to their superior, to the police station of the airport,” he wrote.

“He kindly told me not to protest and say thank God, because I am the only passenger who did not get on flight ET 302,” he wrote. “And that’s why they can not let me go until they know who I am…  At first I thought he was lying, but his style left no room for doubt.”

“I felt the ground under my feet to be lost,” he wrote.

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While he waited, his internet searching confirmed the tragedy, and he immediately realized he had to alert others that he was not on the downed plane.

“This text I wrote to manage my shock,” he wrote. “I want to tell everyone that the invisible and impenetrable filaments of fortune, the out-of-plan conjunctions knit the web in which our life is caught. … I’m grateful I live and I have so many friends who made me feel their love.”

Among the victims on the flight from at least 35 countries were 22 United Nations staff members, many of them traveling to the Kenyan home of the UN’s African headquarters for a UN Environment Assembly that began on Monday.

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At the start of that 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 loss.

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.

The Nigerian government also confirmed the death of former ambassador Abiodun Bashuathis link opens in a new tab, who had been working with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, according to The New York Times.

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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 weekend press conference, 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.

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 also were killed.

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