World·CBC IN ETHIOPIA

'They said nothing': Relatives of Ethiopia crash victims demand news from airline

Relatives of passengers and crew lost on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 are growing frustrated and angry with the airline, accusing it of a chaotic lack of transparency about the investigation into the crash.

Families storm out of 'chaotic' meeting with no information on identifying remains

'Everyone in that room, the only thing they care about are the bodies,' said 21-year-old Allison Wang, left, in Addis Abada. She lost her dad in the crash. Heily Cao lost her husband Both are from Vernon B.C. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Relatives of passengers and crew lost on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 are growing frustrated and angry with the airline, accusing it of a chaotic lack of transparency about the investigation into the crash.

A meeting Thursday in the Skylight Hotel in Addis Ababa broke up with families storming out, shouting at the airline's CEO Tewolde Gebremariam and his staff.

"They said nothing," said Tim Li, from China, distraught that he couldn't get a clear answer on what remains have been collected and when they'll be identified. He lost his sister.

Hundreds of families have come to the Ethiopian capital to go to the site of the crash, a two-hour drive southeast. But above all, most want to return with something from their deceased family member, whatever way they can.

All 157 people on Flight 302, which departed Sunday morning from Addis Ababa for Nairobi, Kenya, were killed after the plane ran into trouble only six minutes after takeoff. Passengers came from more than 30 countries; 18 were Canadians.
'I have not lost someone this close, and it's very hard,' said Brian Obiero. His fiancee, Dawn Christine Tanner, was a special education teacher in Hamilton. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

The two black boxes from the plane are being examined in France. More than 40 countries including Canada and the U.S. have grounded the planes or refused to let them into their airspace. There are concerns about similarities to an October crash of the same model aircraft that killed 189 people.

On Thursday, Brian Obiero, 29, sat quietly in the "Canada Room" at the Skylight Hotel where Canadian Embassy staff provide support for Canadian families.

The meeting was "chaotic," he said, with people demanding to know about the bodies.

Obiero was engaged to Dawn Christine Tanner, a special education teacher in Hamilton who has two children. She was travelling to Africa to visit him.
A Roman Catholic mass takes place at the Holy Saviour Church in Addis Ababa on Thrsday. The service featured 157 white candles and 157 white roses, in honour of those killedin the crash. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

He was waiting for her at the Nairobi airport, and had already bought her a "welcome meal" because he knew what she liked in Kenyan cuisine. She last texted him at 7:58 a.m. Sunday. Flight 302 crashed just after 8 a.m.

Tears rolled down his cheeks as he flipped through a stack of photos and told CBC News, "I have not lost someone this close, and it's very hard." He wears a beaded bracelet with his fiancee's name and a Canadian flag. She had one similar, with his name beaded in and the Kenyan flag.

His visit to the crash site on Wednesday was a painful reminder of her. He wonders whether he can see her and get her remains back, to put her at rest.

"If it takes a little longer, I can stay here. Or go home and come back."

He just wants to know, like so many others in limbo.
People attend the mass in memory of those who died. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

A U.K. company, Blake Emergency Services, has been hired to carry out the DNA investigation. On Thursday close relatives went one by one into a hotel room to be swabbed for DNA. Other families across the world are sending in objects containing DNA. But there's no certainty how long identifying the remains will take.

"Everyone in that room, the only thing they care about are the bodies," said 21-year-old Allison Wang, of Vernon, B.C. Her father, Jack, was killed travelling to Kenya.

She said, "They should be organized, like Step One: we are collecting the DNA, Step Two, we will compare, and how long they are taking, but I don't think they even know."

Wang also said, "We so appreciate the Canadian government and the Chinese government, who've given us so much help."

CBC News requested an interview with Ethiopian Airlines but after the meeting was told the CEO was not available.

About the Author

Susan Ormiston

Senior correspondent

Susan Ormiston's career spans more than 25 years reporting from hot spots such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Lebanon and South Africa.