Crucial business lessons from the Boeing debacle

Monday, January 13th, 2020 19:10 |
Shortage of flight inspectors ‘hinders’ growth of aviation. Photo/Courtesy

 By Seth Onyango and Alvin Mwangi

 “I am left with loneliness. I ask myself a lot of questions. Yes, the bodies are here but what next for me? It is hard to proceed with life,” lamented Kelvin Karanja, who lost five family members in the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines plane crash when he received their remains yesterday.

It was supposed to be a moment of closure for him and families of 32 other Kenyans who gathered at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the morning to receive the remains of their loved ones who perished in the crash in Addis Ababa.

After losing his wife, three children and mother in-law, Karanja narrated how he has struggled to come to terms with their abrupt death, as it emerged that only small body parts were recovered from the crash site.

Nonetheless, the arrival of their remains yesterday marked an end to a long, agonising wait for him and other bereaved families who were seeking some form of closure. 

In March, Karanja was among relatives ­­who travelled to Addis Ababa to give out samples of their DNA to help in identification of bodies.

Karanja’s ordeal epitomises the pain that families, relatives and friends of victims of the ill-fated Boeing 737 Max 8 plane have endured.

“Losing your entire family is painful,” he said at Lee Funeral Home, Nairobi, while holding the photo of his daughter who died in the accident.

He narrated how is journey with his wife had come to an abrupt end.

“ We met while we were very young and we decided to sail this journey. I feel lonely,” he mourned.

Because of the nature of the accident, Karanja said he had decided not to view the remains, adding that the family had accepted the reality and will bury them on Friday in their home in Nakuru county.

“There is nothing we can do because everything has already happened. But if it were my wish, I would not have received the body parts,” said Karanja.

Specialised caskets bearing the remains of the 28 victims were tagged on a tractor and pulled to the presidential pavilion where prayers were conducted under tight security. 

Raw emotions and stifled tears punctuated the proceedings at the pavilion as senior government officials comforted the bereaved.

Cabinet Secretaries James Macharia (Transport), Amina Mohammed (Sports), Monica Juma (Foreign Affairs) and Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya Meles Alem led State officials at the ceremony.

Apparently, most families had come to terms with the fact that there will be no bodies, just a few remains kept in a casket.

The remains, in brown caskets, had arrived earlier in the morning. 

A total of 28 caskets arrived in Nairobi yesterday out of the 32 people who died as some families, especially those of Kenyans with dual citizenship, chose to cremate their remains in Ethiopia.

After they were received by families, the caskets which were mounted with photos of the deceased, were wheeled into waiting ambulances which would take them to various morgues.

Sources told People Daily Ethiopian Airlines will foot the funeral costs.

Macharia said receiving the remains was a sorrowful moment for Kenya.

“Today is a sad day for the country as we receive the remains of Kenyans who perished at the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families,” he said.

Most families at the Lee Funeral home said they were relieved to receive the remains after a long and agonising wait.

Ethiopian authorities had said the bodies were damaged prompting the airline to conduct DNA analysis to identify the remains. 

Some families said they will cremate the remains of their loved ones. 

Fredrick Karanja Mungai, father of Helen Waithera, said her remains will be cremated on Thursday at Kariokor. 

“As the father, I saw no need of calling for a burial because the remains are too small,” said Mungai. 

According to people privy to the government briefing, all they were told is that the State will push for a memorial site in honour of the victims.

With hardly any bodies to bury, the families had made an emotional plea to the government to erect a monument in honour of their kin.

It also emerged that plane manufacturer Boeing has offered financial help to the affected families, as a “gift” and not as compensation as the families had anticipated.

Boeing is facing an avalanche of legal suits after investigations revealed that both the Ethiopian Airlines and the Malaysian Lion Air planes had crashed because of a manufacturing fault.

More than 18 families have sued the company for additional compensation on top of the Sh15 million each is entitled to in accordance to the Montreal convention on air disasters.

In April, a consortium of Kenyan and American law firms announced plans to sue the company over the Ethiopian crash.

Preliminary reports showed that pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX jet that had 157 passengers followed emergency procedures outlined by the manufacturer.

Experts revealed after turning off a flight-control system that was automatically pushing down the plane’s nose shortly after take-off, the crew couldn’t get the aircraft to maintain its balance, leading to the crash.

The passengers were from 35 different nationalities with Kenyans being the majority.

Other countries that lost citizens in the Nairobi-bound plane included: Canada (18), Egypt (six), Ethiopia (nine), France (seven), US (eight), Netherlands (five), Slovakia (four), Sweden (three), China (eight) and Britain (seven).

Spain, Israel, Morocco and Poland had  two nationals each on the flight while Belgium, Indonesia, Ireland, Mozambique, Norway, Saudi, Sudan, Somalia, Serbia, Togo, Uganda, Yemeni, Nepal, Nigeria had one each.

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