‘Boeing was at my father’s funeral and I was not’

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Zipporah Kuria
Zipporah Kuria: “They’ve robbed us of our closure”

Zipporah Kuria was fighting back tears.

Eight months after the Boeing 737 Max crash that killed Ms Kuria’s father, Joseph Waithaka, the site of impact was covered on Thursday and unidentified remains of the victims were buried in rows of identical coffins. But Ms Kuria wasn’t there.

Officials from Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines are believed to have attended a ceremony at the site, but because of the short notice Ms Kuria and other relatives of the dead were unable to attend.

Family members of three separate victims told the BBC they were only notified of the ceremony days ago. As a result, only relatives of two of the 157 victims attended.

“It is absurd. It makes me shudder that Boeing and Ethiopian Airlines are at my father’s funeral and I’m not,” Ms Kuria said.

The crash happened in a rural area to the south-east of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It left behind a deep crater which until this week still contained accident debris and some human remains.

Families of those killed say they were left horrified after they visited the site last month and found that recent rains had uncovered bones and other items. Some, they said, were floating in flood water in the crater.

red coffins covered in dirtRows of coffins were placed neatly in the crater

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 was lost minutes after take-off on what should have been a routine flight from Addis Ababa to the Kenyan capital Nairobi on 10 March.

It came down in farmland, in a deeply rural area. In the immediate aftermath, those human remains that could be found were removed, along with the plane’s flight recorders and large items of wreckage.

The crash is believed to have occurred after a flight control system known as MCAS deployed at the wrong time, forcing the nose of the aircraft down when the pilots were trying to gain height.

A similar malfunction has been blamed for the loss of a near-identical 737 Max in Indonesia a year ago. The aircraft has been grounded for the past nine months, banned from flying by aviation authorities around the world.

Wreckage lies at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8157 people died when Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed

The violence of the impact of the Ethiopian Airlines flight meant that when my colleagues and I visited the site in May, there was still a great deal of smaller debris lying in the fields.

The deep impact crater itself remained, alongside huge mounds of earth from the recovery operation, with a rough wooden fence the only barrier to access. Animals were able to roam freely across the site. There were no guards and no official presence.

After that, the victims’ relatives say, the situation worsened as a result of seasonal rains. They have been demanding action.

Samya Rose Stumo
Samya Rose Stumo was 24 years old and was on board ET302

Nadia Millieron, whose daughter Samya Rose Stumo died in the crash, recently told the BBC: “There were bones being revealed all the time and local people are coming to the site and covering them. We want Ethiopian Airlines to move the piles of earth into the crater, take the unidentifiable remains into the crater and to cover everything”.

Ethiopian Airlines, which is managing the site, told victims’ families it was aware of the issue, but claimed insurance issues had prevented it from taking action. But after coming under pressure from the relatives, and following an investigation by the BBC, it appears those difficulties have now been overcome.

On Thursday, rows of coffins were placed neatly in the crater. These contained remains that had previously been removed for forensic analysis, but which could not be identified due to contamination. Then they were covered over and the crater itself was filled, the dark earth matching the surrounding fields.

The site is now a permanent grave.

Relatives of the victims believe Ethiopian Airlines had a duty to keep them informed about the burial and should have given them more notice. The BBC has approached the carrier for a comment.

Boeing has refused to comment on reports that one of its senior executives, Jennifer Lowe, was among those present.

The company said in a statement: “We continue to offer our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 and we are committed to helping those affected by these tragedies.”

Last month, Ms Kuria travelled with her family to Ethiopia to collect and bring home some of her father’s remains. She said it was “heartbreaking” that she was unable to get to the site in time for the covering of the site.

“My dad is being buried, well most of him, as we only received a small amount of him back,” she said.

She said she would have jumped on a flight if it had been possible.

Mike Lorenzo-Vera
Mike Lorenzo-Vera carded a nine-under 63 on day one of the World Tour Championship in Dubai
World Tour Championship first-round leaderboard
-9 M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra); -8 R McIlroy (NI); -6 J Rahm (Esp); -5 T Fleetwood (Eng), T Lewis (Eng)
Selected others:-3 D Willett (Eng), J Rose (Eng)
Full leaderboard

Rory McIlroy finished day one of the World Tour Championship in second place behind leader Mike Lorenzo-Vera.

The Northern Irishman carded an eight-under 64, one stroke behind the Frenchman who shot the lowest ever opening round in the championship.

Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who is second in the Race to Dubai standings, is tied with compatriot Tom Lewis in fourth on five under.

Fleetwood hit a hole-out eagle on the opening hole in Dubai.

The 28-year-old described his unlikely eagle two as the “perfect start” to the day.

“I hit a great drive and I didn’t expect the nine to reach the pin but it was the perfect start,” Fleetwood told Sky Sports.

“I hit so many good putts out there today.

“I got on a really nice streak where I was hitting some sweet ones and I couldn’t have asked for much more.”

Fleetwood, who jumped to second in the Race to Dubai with victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa last week, will be crowned as the top European golfer if current leader Bernd Wiesberger finishes outside the top two.

The Austrian is currently tied in 14th on two under after carding a 70.

Meanwhile, McIlroy declared his eagle on the 18th as his “best shot of the year”.

Scotland players celebrate
The Scots will aim to see off Israel at Hampden

Scotland will face Israel in their one-off Euro 2020 play-off semi-final at Hampden on 26 March.

And if Steve Clarke’s side progress, they will be away to Norway or Serbia for a finals place five days later.

Northern Ireland will host Republic of Ireland in Belfast if both sides win their respective semi-finals at Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia.

Israel were one of four ‘Path C’ teams, alongside Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, Scotland could have drawn.

Scotland earned their play-off place by winning Nations League Group C1, with Israel second.

Northern and Republic of Ireland already knew their opponents, with Friday’s draw deciding the host for each final.

Scotland, then managed by Alex McLeish, lost 2-1 away to Israel in October 2018 before beating them 3-2 at Hampden the following month to top the group.

The Scots then finished third in Euro qualifying Group I, while Israel came fifth in Group G.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke
Steve Clarke: “This is the time to believe”

Clarke’s side, 53rd in the FIFA world rankings, sit 36 places higher than Israel and the semi-final will hold few fears against a side that lost their last four away Euro qualifiers.

However, the potential trip to face Norway or Serbia is a daunting prospect. Norway haven’t suffered a home defeat in more than three years while Serbia are ranked 33rd and played in last year’s World Cup.

Clarke described the prospect of facing Israel in March as “a hugely exciting challenge for us with a massive reward”.

“The players know Israel well having faced them in the Nations League,” he added. “It was a tough match over there but we showed our capabilities with a good win at Hampden last year.

“This is the time to believe. We have three wins in a row and the benefit of momentum. We want to be active participants at EURO 2020, not just hosts, and we will give our all in what I believe will be two games.”

Israel

How did their qualifying group go?

Off the back of losing out to Scotland in their Nations League group, Israel started with a draw with Slovenia and wins over Austria and Latvia. However, things quickly fell apart after that. In their next seven qualifiers, Andi Herzog’s side won just one – a 3-1 home win over bottom-placed Latvia – and lost five.

Despite starting off in pot three side, Israel finished fifth behind Poland, Austria, North Macedonia and Slovenia – winning just one win from eight games against the four sides. There hasn’t been a huge amount of evidence to suggest they’ve improved at all since losing 3-2 at Hampden a year ago.

Key player – Eran Zahavi

Guangzhou striker Eran Zahavi was a key player for this faltering Israeli side, scoring 11 goals in 10 qualifying games. The 32-year-old netted four of those against Austria, two against Slovenia and one against North Macedonia. He also claimed a goal and an assist at Hampden in the last meeting with Scotland.