At Ethiopia Plane Crash Site, A New Pilgrimage Of Grief

A family member reacts at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia Wednesday, March 13, 2019. The black box from the Boeing jet that crashed will be sent overseas for analysis but no country has been chosen yet, an Ethiopian Airlines spokesman said Wednesday, as much of the world grounded or barred the plane model and grieving families arrived at the disaster site. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)


— In Ethiopia, an ancient land of pilgrimages, people are making their way to a grim new marker of grief.

Friends and families of the 157 people killed on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 came forward one by one on Wednesday, giving quiet offerings to the dead.

Photographs. Heartfelt notes. Bouquets.

They were placed under a makeshift floral arch, bright green in striking contrast to the arid land. White roses were plucked from a bucket and placed in a slender frame that wavered in the wind.

Some relatives staggered with mourning.

One man was supported by others, crying out. They sought footing on the freshly churned and blackened ground.

Others stood in silence. Security forces in camouflage blue. Searchers in face masks. Diplomats in polished shoes.

“We owe it to the families to understand what happened,” said British ambassador Alastair McPhail. Nine of his countrymen died.

The dead came from 35 countries. Around the world, loved ones began a numb, bewildering journey to the scene.

The crash site is outside Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. It was rural people, some with their cattle, who saw the plane go down. When they hurried to the smoking ground, they found little there .

Local pilot Solomon Gizaw was among the first to see the crash site from above. He said it appeared as though the plane had slipped right into the earth.

Yellow tape now rings the scene. Some wait outside it, watching.

Others have the heartbreaking right to go inside. Some carry armfuls of flowers.

“We want to go there often and make offerings,” Dawit Gebremichael, who lost his sister, said.

A few have slipped to the site in secret.

As the world reeled from the news of the crash on Sunday, Ethiopia’s young new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went to bear early witness.

He grieved for the dead, and perhaps the blow to his country’s airline, Ethiopia’s high-flying symbol of transformation.

The country is lined with footpaths to ancient churches and other places of reflection. Now it is the continent’s aviation hub, jet trails tracing in the sky.

The public pilgrimage to the crash site began with Ethiopian Airlines’ CEO. He stood alone in the gaping crater Sunday, holding a piece of wreckage, in an image that swiftly made its way around the world.

More now have come.

On Wednesday there was Indonesia’s new ambassador to Ethiopia. He told reporters he had arrived just the day before. He said Indonesia lost one citizen.

Others lost many more.

Now investigators have arrived. It is a global undertaking, like the mourning.

Ethiopia already embraces many beliefs. As the world arrives, it has room for others.

China’s ruling party remains officially atheist. And yet Chinese aviation experts took a quiet moment from their work for what looked like prayer.

They made a modest offering: Fruit. Bread rolls. Ethiopia’s staple bread, injera. Incense.

The officials bowed in unison. And the work began again.


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