NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 21 – Families of 36 Kenyans who died in the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash two weeks ago have been urged to be calm as authorities work to identify the remains of their loved ones.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Amb Macharia Kamau on Thursday told relatives of the 32 Kenyan passport holders and four others who held foreign passports not to be fixated on the six-month timeline given by the airline within which DNA results are to be released, saying the process could take longer.
The ministry however assured that its officials will be available to assist relatives with the ongoing process of obtaining death certificates which the airline had over the weekend said will be issued within the next two weeks.
“To isolate DNA of individual people is a task that will be enormous and so I think this target the airline has given itself is very ambitious,” Amb Kamau said.
“What I’d advise is that emotionally you make a very conscious decision not to watch the calendar on this issue because if you do you’ll stress yourselves considerably. This could take a very long time,” he urged.
Amb Kamau who was responding to concerns raised by bereaved families said Ethiopian authorities may experience difficulties “isolating individuals’ DNA remains,” adding “commingled DNA of passengers on board the aircraft commingled with whatever else was on the plane” would be an uphill task.
The Kenyans were among 157 passengers of 35 nationalities including 22 United Nations affiliated travellers who died when flight ET 302 plunged into the ground in Bishoftu, southeast of the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, six minutes after takeoff.
A Nakuru-based family suffered the greatest casualties having lost five of its members – 34-year-old Caroline Karanja alongside her three children aged seven, four, and nine months, and her mother-in-law, Anne Karanja.
The airline has since facilitated travel arrangements to Addis Ababa where relatives of those on board the ill-fated plane were taken to the crash site.
Speaking at the meeting convened by the Foreign Office on Thursday, Dennis Adhoch who lost his wife in the accident raised concerns over the pace of DNA processing while urging the Kenyan government to send its experts to Ethiopia to assist hasten the exercise.
Adhoch said the process could take longer than anticipated hence the need for the Ethiopian Government to allow Kenya join the efforts of identifying remains of those who died in the plane crash.
“The Kenyan Government is not giving us a direct answer on whether they asked to offer Ethiopia assistance and the Ethiopian Government refused. Yes, DNA is a complex process but if you have a group of 10 people working on the DNA process increasing the number would shorten the process,” he said.
Richmond Mureithi, who also lost a relative in the March 10 accident, however, said both the airline and the Kenyan Government had offered them adequate support.
“The government and the airline have assisted us. The airline provided air tickets, accommodation, and site visit so all we want now is to have closure on this,” he said.
Mureithi said all efforts were now focused on holding memorial prayer services to ensure family members come to terms with the tragic loss of their kin.
“All other things like compensation – and I don’t think this really is compensation because you cannot compensate for the loss of life – will wait and we shall pursue those as and when the airline is ready,” he said.
Other relatives asked the government to reach out to Ethiopia that is said to have closed the crash site in order to allow family members that are yet to visit the opportunity to do so.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 manufacture has since grounded the model that Ethiopian Airlines was flying at the time of the March 10 crash.
The temporary suspension followed an advisory by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
A number of airlines had grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 after safety concerns arose from the fatal crash after similarities were reported mirroring a Lion Air-operated Flight 610 that crashed into the Java Sea just 12 minutes after takeoff from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta on October 29, 2018 killing 189 people on board.
Questions were raised on whether pilots had been adequately trained to override an autopilot function popularly referred to as Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System which alters the pitch of the plane to prevent stalling.