TULUFERA – Grim-faced, visibly grief-stricken and some crying, hundreds of family members gathered Tuesday for a memorial service at the site where one year ago an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed into the rocky ground, killing all 157 on board.
The area of the disaster, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southeast of Addis Ababa, the capital, was closed to the media as buses brought relatives of the victims to the commemoration, sponsored by Ethiopian Airlines and Boeing, the maker of the jet.
Residents of the rural Tulufera area, near Bishoftu, took a break from fetching water and milking cattle, to remember when the jet nose-dived into the earth.
"It was very chaotic and we were in distress," Tsegaye Workineh, who said he was one of the first people to reach the crash site, told The Associated Press. "It is a sight that I will never forget in my entire life. You're lucky that you haven't seen it. It was very shocking."
Big buses and smaller vehicles arrived on a newly built dirt road for the service where large tents have been erected.
Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa airport on the morning of March 10 last year and the pilots quickly reported problems and sought permission to return to the airport. They struggled but failed to control the plane, which six minutes after takeoff hit the barren patch of land.
The Ethiopian crash came almost five months after a strikingly similar crash in Indonesia of the same model aircraft. Together the two crashes led to a grounding of all Boeing 737 Max jets, more than 380 planes used by more than 50 airlines around the world. Boeing initially expressed confidence that the planes would soon be returned to service, but no date has been set.
In an interim report released Monday, Ethiopian investigators mostly blame Boeing for the crash, saying there were design failures in the flight-control system which repeatedly pushed the nose of the plane down. The report also said Boeing had offered inadequate training for pilots.
“This is a disaster that could have been avoided. That's the hardest thing to come to terms with," said Bahru Zewde, a member of the Ethiopian Airlines Pilots' Association, at a memorial held by the group in Addis Ababa on Tuesday afternoon. "It was an unnecessary sacrifice they paid. They have become martyrs.”
Getachew Tessema, father of the pilot of the crashed flight, spoke at the event.
“My son Yared was very happy to join Ethiopian Airlines. We were also filled with joy and pride. But now this happened,” he said. “Yared was a hard-working person who was loved by many. He died at the tender age of 29. The only hope I have is to see him in the afterlife. Our wounds will never heal.”
A fellow pilot told how the deceased captain had been the best man in his wedding and of his despair over the crash.
“I learned about the terrible news from TV,” said Biniam Alemayehu. "The fact that Captain Yared was my best man makes it harder for me. First I was in denial. Then I cried and rolled over the ground. The fact that it was a new aircraft with seasoned cabin crew members and a safe airline makes it an open wound for all of us.”