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Families to get DNA results in 6 months as new evidence links Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes

By Daniel Wesangula | March 17th 2019

Plane Crash forensic experts going through the debris trying to pick evidence from the Ethiopian Airline crash scene in which 157 people died in Tulu fena in Ejera, Ethiopia.[PHOTO: MAXWELL AGWANDA/STANDARD]

Relatives of the victims of the doomed Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed a week ago will have to wait for six months to get results of DNA tests that may match them to their kin, the airline said yesterday.

The airline also said the families will have death certificates of their departed family members in two weeks, as those in Addis Ababa were offered charred earth from the plane crash site to bury. 

This comes on the back of complaints by some relatives who were at pains to understand a slow and painful process of victim identification undertaken by the Ethiopian authorities.

In the course of the week, dozens of family members trooped to the Ethiopian capital to give DNA samples, which they hoped would help investigators identify remains of their kin and hopefully return home with them.

Striking similarities

The latest release from Addis Ababa, though understandable, further compounds the agony next of kin are going through particularly after some had initially been denied access to the horrific crash site.

Witnesses say the crash site is characterised by a massive crater, indicating the devastating speed at which the plane rammed the ground. But now, the promise of DNA matches gives a glimmer of hope that families might finally access the remains of their relatives to accord them the final rights.

Still, new evidence now points to striking similarities between the Ethiopian Airline crash and the Lion Air crash of October 2018. Both ended fatally. 

“Evidence suggests that the plane’s stabilisers were tilted upward. At that angle, the stabilisers would have forced down the nose of the jet, a similarity with the Lion Air crash in October,” The New York Times reports.

It is believed that this was the final piece of evidence that finally compelled the United States Federal Aviation Administration (US FAA) authorities to ban the 737 Max from its airspace, days after tens of aviation authorities had already grounded their fleet and banned the model from their air spaces.

The US FAA said regulators had new data from satellite-based tracking that showed the movements of the two planes, which crashed five months apart were similar. Both planes flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Both crews tried to return to their respective airports but failed.

The recovery of the plane’s Black Box may also shed more light into what happened to the Ethiopian plane, and hopefully isolate cause of the crash.

Sought help

Authorities in Addis Ababa do not have necessary expertise to interpret the data from the Black Box, but French authorities, from whom the Ethiopian government sought help, acknowledged receipt of the orange coloured box and say work on retrieving flight data from the Sunday accident is already underway.

“There is no immediate information on the condition of the recorders. Preliminary information could take several days to extract,” BEA, the French agency taxed with extracting the data, has said. 

Industry players say the Sunday crash might prove a handful for Boeing, the plane’s manufucturer, as lawyers are already targeting the American company even as investigators try to figure out what caused the deaths of 346 people following the two crashes.

Boeing faces the prospect of substantial payouts to the families of passengers if it’s found responsible for both the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes. But legal experts say the second crash could prove even more damaging for the Chicago-based company.

Since the accident, 371 Boeing 737 Max jets flown around the world by various airlines have been grounded as investigations continue. Also hanging in the balance are orders for more than 4,500 of the 737 Max 8.

“Boeing has paused deliveries of the 737 Max, but production continues,” Boeing Spokesman Paul Bergman said on Thursday.

As families hope for a speedy conclusion of the investigations, Ethiopian Airlines will today hold a service in Addis Ababa, at the Holy Trinity Cathedral for those who perished.

Locally, families continue to grapple with emotional burial plans, most at odds with how to conduct the funerals and what to bury in place of their relatives. Elders from different parts of the country have offered options to the grieving, none of which would replace the closure found in interring an actual loved one.

Even under this cloud of grief, there remains a glimmer of hope. In six months, and after the confirmation of positive DNA matches, some of these families, not all may just get the closure that they yearn for.


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