22 UN staff among dead in Ethiopian Airlines crash

Ethiopian federal policemen at the scene of the plane crash yesterday. The country's Parliament declared a national day of mourning yesterday amid a global stream of condolences, including from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said he was '
Ethiopian federal policemen at the scene of the plane crash yesterday. The country's Parliament declared a national day of mourning yesterday amid a global stream of condolences, including from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said he was ''deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives''. PHOTO: REUTERS
Members of the search and rescue mission removing bodies from the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302. All 157 people on board the flight were killed in Sunday's crash.
Members of the search and rescue mission removing bodies from the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302. All 157 people on board the flight were killed in Sunday's crash. PHOTO: REUTERS
A relative of one of the victims reacting as he left the information centre at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, after receiving news of the tragedy on Sunday.
A relative of one of the victims reacting as he left the information centre at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, after receiving news of the tragedy on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sombre mood at UN environment meeting in Nairobi, where the delegates were heading

NEW YORK • At least 22 United Nations staff were on Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 on Sunday when it crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 157 people on board, the world body said.

Many of those on the flight from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa bound for Kenya's capital Nairobi had been headed for an annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which opened under a dark cloud yesterday.

Delegates arrived at the meeting, held to address the world's environmental problems, hugging and comforting one another as they wondered who among the staff may have been on the plane.

The UN flag was flown at half-mast and the usually colourful display of national flags removed.

"I stand before you on the first day of the UN Environment Assembly, which has officially commenced today in the wake of this tragedy," Ms Maimunah Sharif, head of UN Habitat, told delegates.

"Let us reflect that our colleagues were willing to travel and to work far from their homes and loved ones to make the world a better place to live," she said.

Among the dead were staff from the World Food Programme, the UN refugee agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the agencies said. Nairobi hosts the global headquarters of UNEP and UN Habitat, and is the regional seat of several other UN agencies.

 
 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives".

Ethiopia's Parliament declared a national day of mourning yester-day amid a global stream of condolences.

The airline said passengers from 33 countries were on board, with Kenya having the largest number of casualties with 32 dead. This was followed by Canada with 18, Ethiopia with nine, then Italy, China and the United States with eight each.

China's Foreign Ministry extended its "deep sympathy to the bereaved families", said its spokesman Lu Kang, while Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deplored the "devastating news" that so many of its citizens had died.

Among the dead was British citizen Joanna Toole, who was on her way to the UN meeting as a representative of the FAO, according to a tweet from the fisheries and aquaculture department.

The IOM said its staff on the plane included Ms Anne Feigl, who worked for the agency's mission in Sudan. Mission chief Catherine Northing remembered Ms Feigl as "an extremely valued colleague and popular staff member, committed and professional".

Members of non-profit and humanitarian groups were also among the victims. Mr Tamirat Mulu Demessie, a child protection specialist from Ethiopia who worked for the non-profit group Save the Children, was also killed, according to the organisation.

Mr Demessie worked with programmes for children affected by violence and helped reunite children with their families during emergencies. "He challenged and empowered everyone who worked with him to do more for children, holding perpetrators accountable," said Ms Lara Martin, a friend and former colleague.

One Greek man, however, had a lucky escape. Mr Antonis Mavropoulos, president of the non-profit International Solid Waste Association, was meant to travel to Nairobi for the UN environment meeting yesterday.

He was supposed to board the plane but reached the departure gate just two minutes after it closed. "I was mad because nobody helped me to reach the gate on time," he said in a Facebook post entitled "My lucky day", in which he included a photo of his ticket.

Mr Mavropoulos was the only passenger booked on the doomed flight who was not on board. Had he been earlier, he would have been the 150th passenger on the flight.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2019, with the headline '22 UN staff among dead in Ethiopian Airlines crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe