Families of Ethiopian Airlines victims offered scorched earth for burial

Forensic DNA work has begun but identification could take up to six months

Mourners cry next to their relatives' coffins during the burial ceremony of the Ethiopian Airline Flight ET 302 crash victims at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Orthodox church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
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Ethiopian Airlines has offered the families of 157 victims of last Sunday's plane crash bags of scorched earth to bury in place of their loved ones, whose remains could take months to identify.

Officials delivered bags of earth to the grieving relatives for a mass funeral that took place in Addis Ababa on Sunday.

“The soil came as it became impossible to identify bodies and hand over remains to family members,” a relative of one of the victims told the Associated Press. “We will not rest until we are given the real body or body parts of our loved ones.”

Forensic DNA work has begun to identify the remains but families have been told identification could take up to six months because the body parts are in small pieces following the crash.

Authorities say they will issue death certificates within two weeks to the families of all victims, who came from 35 different countries.

On Sunday, an aircraft hangar had been filled with the white roses as aviation staff gathered to pay their respects to the two pilots and six crew members who died in the incident.

Interpol and Blake Emergency Services were hired by Ethiopian Airlines to work with Ethiopian police and health officials to identify the bodies.

Multiple agencies are working to establish the cause of the disaster. France’s air safety agency began on Friday studying data from the black boxes of a Boeing 737 Max plane that crashed in Ethiopia minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were retrieved on Thursday from the crash site.

The Boeing 737 Max plane, which carried at the time 149 passengers and 8 crew members, is thought to have experienced the same technical issue that crashed an Indonesian airliner last year of the same manufacture, killing 189 people.

Both planes crashed minutes after take-off, and satellite tracking shows that both planes experienced unusual vertical oscillations. This may have led pilots to struggle with the controls and lose altitude.

A lack of pilot familiarity with the plane’s automatic stabiliser may have also be a possible factor, according to preliminary assessments.

Investigators at the crash site are specifically looking at a piece of equipment known as a “jackscrew”, which controls the angle of the horizontal stabilizers.

Dozens of countries worldwide have issued orders to ground all Boeing 737 MAX airliners until their safety can be guaranteed.

Boeing said it supports the grounding of its planes as a precautionary step but reiterated "full confidence" in their safety.

Many of the passengers killed in the incident were traveling to the UN environmental assembly in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. At least 22 people affiliated with the international organisation were killed in the crash.

Delegates paid their respects with a minute of silence at the opening of the UN assembly on March 11.

“We have lost fellow delegates, interpreters and UN staff. I express my condolences to those who lost loved ones in the crash,” Siim Kiisler, the Estonian environment minister, said.

The victims included 32 Kenyan citizens, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians, nine Brits, eight from each of Italy, China and the US, and seven from France.