‘My child! My brother!’: As mourners gather at Ethiopian Airlines crash site, an agonizing search for remains

TULU FARA, Ethi­o­pia — In a plowed farm field at the base of a wooded hill lie the remnants of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that crashed Sunday. Now the rutted dirt roads that lead to it, normally used more by horse-drawn traffic than cars, are jammed with buses, vans and SUVs bringing mourners to the site where 157 people perished in a tragedy that has devastated families from dozens of countries and shaken the airline industry.

On Thursday, Ethiopian Airlines organized a memorial for the 17 Ethiopian victims, including eight crew members, busing in relatives and neighbors from around the country.

The families trickled in throughout the day, often beginning to cry as soon as they left their buses and saw the dark earth seeded with the debris of the once-massive airplane.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner went down at 8:44 a.m. Sunday shortly after takeoff from the Ethio­pian capital, Addis Ababa, en route to Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. Passengers from more than 30 countries were on board, some of them headed to a U.N. environmental conference in the Kenyan capital. The crash has prompted countries all over the world — including, as of Wednesday, the United States — to ground 737 Max planes or bar them from their airspace.

Here at the crash site about 40 miles southeast of Addis Ababa, most of the Ethio­pian plane’s pieces have been pushed into piles, but signs of the tragedy are still everywhere: a torn business card from Kenya, a headrest cover from the flight’s Cloud 9 business class, a brochure for Parvati.org, whose director of strategic initiatives, Darcy Belanger, was on the flight to attend the environmental conference in Nairobi.

Mementos left by mourners who visited on previous days are scattered around the scene. A bunch of faded white roses lies at the edge of tape cordoning off the site next to two chocolate bars bearing Chinese wrappers. Eight Chinese nationals died in the crash.

Cries of “My child!” and “My brother!” filled the air around the site. Some family members fell to the ground in grief, while others just moaned the name of their dead loved ones over and over.

“Mulusew Alemu,” an old man repeated — the name of a senior project manager for Catholic Relief Services who was headed for a training course in Nairobi with three colleagues.

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