Grief and anger as families try to identify loved ones killed in Ethiopia Airlines crash

The Ethiopian Airlines crash site has been a mix of mourners, retrieval specialists and investigation crews — from Ethiopia and around the world — and all of them are looking for their own kinds of answers.  

All 157 people on board Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 which departed Sunday morning from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya, were killed after the plane ran into serious trouble only six minutes after take off. 

The flight roster on the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet was made up of people from more than 20 different countries, including 18 Canadians. 

For Israeli Moshe Biton, Tuesday was his second day at the site looking for the remains of his eldest brother, Daniel Reem. The family wants his remains brought back home for burial. 

"It is very important to bring family members to the grave in Israel," said Biton of his search through mounds of debris and dirt at the site which was only cordoned off early Tuesday morning. 

"We came here and said some prayers." 

The Ethiopian Red Cross is one of several groups working on recovery efforts at the crash site in a farming region outside of the capital Addis Ababa. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Hoping to bury the dead

Like Biton, Ilhan Matzliah also lost a brother here. They're both working with an Israeli volunteer search and rescue group called ZAKA who were sent to help identify the bodies.   

"We need to find identities, the DNA, so that we can bury (them)," Bilton said, citing Jewish law. "Otherwise, the person will stay missing."

Moshe Biton lost his oldest brother, Daniel Reem, when the plane crashed killing all 157 people on board. He's at the site because he wants to see if he can help identify remnants of his brother's body in order to bring them back to Israel for a funeral. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

His other brother and sister gave DNA in Israel to try to help make the match.

But after two days of searching, Biton still has not found what he came here for. 

Biton and Matzliah wrote to the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines asking that the Israeli search and rescue team be given access to the hangar where debris which may contain the human remains are stored.

For now, he has been given his brother's wallet which was found on the site, while he waits and hopes for more.

That pain was shared by Noordin Mohamed, 27, a Kenyan businessman who lost his brother and mother in the crash.

"Losing a brother and mother in the same day and not having their bodies to bury is very painful," he told Reuters from the Kenyan capital Nairobi where the plane had been due.

"We are Muslim and have to bury our deceased immediately."  

Complicated recovery effort

At the scene of the recovery effort outside of the Ethiopian capital, hundreds of local people from surrounding farming communities watched as teams from a host of agencies and countries poured over the site. 

Cordoned off with yellow tape marked "crime scene," dozens of rescuers and investigators walked across dry soil in straight lines searching for body parts; large excavators dug into the earth. 

Hundreds of local residents line the road across from where the plane crashed, watching recovery efforts in an agricultural area near Ejere, Ethiopia, on Tuesday. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

The search may be complicated by the sheer number of different parties involved.

On Tuesday, CBC saw groups at the site from: Boeing headquarters in the U.S., the Ethiopian Red Cross, Ethiopian Police, Ethiopian Airlines, a team from the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and a number of other small groups. 

None of the official investigators would comment on the recovery efforts when questioned by CBC News. 

They mostly huddled and talked among themselves. 

Ethiopian Airlines, for its part, said it will take five days to clear the site and return remains to families. 

ZAKA, a volunteer search and rescue team from Israel, was trying to help locate the remains of the two Israelis who were killed in the crash. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

'He had a lot of things left to do'

Lebebew Legesse, the mother of a cabin crew employee who died in the crash, was also searching as she cried at the crash site. 

"What I am now demanding is that I get the body of my child. Whatever happened has happened," Legesse said. "I now need to lay her to rest. I came here to see where my daughter lost her life and to make peace."

The friend of another victim of the ill-fated flight cried as he looked at pictures of the deceased on his phone.

A group of businessmen from China mourn the loss of a colleague at the crash site on Tuesday. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Off on a quiet part of the site, a handful of Chinese businessmen stood, wearing all black, as they bowed their heads in a moment of silence and remembrance for a work colleague who died here.

In front of them sat a makeshift vigil to their colleague: fruit, a pack of cigarettes and some of the Ethiopian injera bread he loved. 

"It is very sad because he had a lot of things left to do," said Wu Ping of his workmate and friend, as he fought back tears. "But he stopped right here and he will now stay here forever."

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