From a quiet farmland at the base of rolling hills outside Ethiopia’s capital, the sound of wailing rang through the air.The Lion Air Boeing plane that crashed after take off, killing everyone on board Devastated mourners flung themselves onto a ground littered with business cards, seat covers and shards of aluminium.
They cried the names of loved ones who had been aboard the jetliner that nose-dived into the field, leaving a dark scar in the soil but barely a trace of their existence.
“You were to be married soon! Why would you die?” one woman cried into the void.
Only the rumble of bulldozers digging for remains deep into the soil, and the pop of flares fired by police to disperse circling crows, punctuated the sobbing.
All 157 people on Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 died when their Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed just six minutes after departing Addis Ababa on Sunday, heading for Nairobi.
Relatives began trickling to the site of the obliterated jet on Wednesday, some bussed in by Ethiopian Airlines, others on their own steam.
The melting pot of mourners all grieved in their own way, some praying, others scooping soil from the ground, while some offered fruit or flowers.
“Nobody expected this could happen to her. She loved her life,” said Ethiopian Micky Kassa, whose cousin Mygenet Worku, 28, was flying to attend a UN environment conference in Nairobi.
“She has an old mother who raised her as a single parent. It’s very sad news,” he told AFP.
For Ethiopians, the crash is a national tragedy, and even people untouched by the disaster made the trek to the remote site to pay their respects.
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest carrier and in many ways the international face of the country.
The country lost nine passengers and eight crew in the disaster.
“Every Ethiopian has to be here,” said Genanaw Dibekulu, a bank branch manager who took the day off to visit the site. “It’s tragic. If it had been my relative, I’d have gone mad.”
– ‘My brother!’ –
As weeping filled the air, officials from the World Food Programme and other UN agencies that lost staff in the crash stood silently in a semi-circle, their heads bowed before a spread of white flowers set up to honour the victims.
Nairobi and the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa both host large regional offices of the UN, which lost 22 staffers on the ill-fated plane.