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World As some Canadian families of plane crash victims leave Ethiopia without answers, others arrive

A Rwandan relative of a crash victim mourns at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia Friday, March 15, 2019.

Mulugeta Ayene /The Associated Press

As French aviation experts begin the task of analyzing the data and voice recorders of doomed Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, it has become a gruelling wait for the families who have descended on Addis Ababa looking to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.

Among the 157 people who died were 18 Canadians aboard the short flight to Nairobi on Sunday.

Parul Lahoti was among the many who have travelled to Ethiopia looking for answers. He was hoping to find the body of his brother, but his hope dwindled when no body was discovered.

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“My brother and I lost our parents a long time ago,” he said. “He was my only brother, and I am devastated.”

The resident of Kitchener, Ont., found out about the accident when his sister-in-law called him in the wee hours of the night after seeing the news on television. She hoped her husband, Lahoti Vaibhav, a Kenyan citizen, father of two and pilot with Saudi Arabian Airlines, was not on the flight. He was.

“Lahoti sat on the first row of the business class of the plane,” his brother said as he headed to Bole International Airport for the long flight home, with little information.

At the Skylight Hotel, where most of the families are staying, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam held a heated briefing Friday with family members. Many walked out of the hall when he did not address the issue of the bodies. Instead, he promised each family US$5,000 for incidental expenses, a certificate testifying that the passengers in question are deceased and permission to take soil from the crash site as a way to give the families some closure and have something to bury.

“No bodies will be fully recovered as only fragmented remains were found," the airline had warned on Wednesday.

Naheed Noormohamed of Toronto lost his 72-year-old father, a Canadian citizen. He left with little information about whether the remains of Ameen Noormohamed would ever be found. Like most of the grieving families, he is in mourning and asked for privacy.

“The family wishes to maintain their privacy but are grateful for all the wishes. They would also like to convey their heartfelt condolences to all the families and friends of the deceased. May their souls rest in eternal peace,” the family’s statement reads.

More families are expected to come to Ethiopia in the coming days, including the relatives of a Brampton family who lost three generations on the ill-fated flight. The grandparents were of Indian citizenship, while their children and grandchildren were Canadians heading to Kenya to visit the ancestral home of the grandparents.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and offered Canada’s assistance. In the meantime, Global Affairs has sent staff members from Ottawa to help facilitate the needs of Canadians and has set aside a room at the Skyline Hotel to offer emotional support and up-to-date information from the crash site as the investigation continues.

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