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‘In deep grief’: Aid workers, U.N. staff, tourists among victims in Ethiopia plane crash

Representatives at the U.N. headquarters in New York paused March 11 to honor victims of the Ethio­pian Airlines crash that killed everyone on board. (Video: Reuters)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Among the dead in Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash were law students, tourists, writers, academics and a number of aid workers and employees of the United Nations — 157 victims who represented more than 30 nationalities.

The route connected East Africa’s two premier cities: Addis Ababa, home to the African Union, has been called the political capital of the region, while vibrant Nairobi is the commercial capital.

Both host regional headquarters for several international institutions and have large populations of expatriates. Addis Ababa is the location of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, while the World Food Program, the United Nations’ refugee agency and its children’s agency, ­UNICEF, all have their regional headquarters in Nairobi.

Nineteen U.N. staffers were on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, many of whom were traveling to Nairobi for the U.N. Environment Assembly, which opened Monday with flags at half-staff and a minute of silence for the victims.

One of them was Victor Shanghai Tsang, who, his colleagues say, embodied the spirit of the United Nations. A former intern who rose to become a program officer, he brought together a group of interns and staffers to promote innovation goals at this week’s summit. He is survived by his pregnant wife and his son.

“The environmental community is in mourning today,” the U.N. Environment Program said in a statement, describing the loss of “seasoned scientists, members of academia and other partners.”

The Rome-based World Food Program, which provides food assistance to millions of people across the world and in the Horn of Africa, lost seven employees.

David Beasely, the agency’s executive director, said the loss was “devastating, heartbreaking. I don’t think there was a dry eye today in our team in Addis.”

“Every day, our friends, our WFP team, put their life on the line for everyone out there,” he said, describing the aid workers as “average people giving everything they’ve got to make the world a better place, and that makes them superheroes.”

Among the victims from WFP was Irish aid worker Michael Ryan, who had been set to move from Cork, Ireland, to Rome in a matter of months and left behind a wife and two children, one just 7 months old.

He was described by the Irish Independent newspaper as a respected aid worker who was involved in projects in Asia and Africa, including with Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh.

“Michael was doing life-changing work in Africa,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Kenya suffered the biggest loss of life among the countries represented on the flight, with 32 of its citizens killed. Cedric Asiavugwa, born in Kenya, was a third-year law student at Georgetown University. He was traveling back to Nairobi after the death of his fiancee’s mother, according to university officials. Officials said the student’s long-term plan was to return to Kenya to champion the rights of refugees.

There were also 18 Canadians on the flight. Pius Adesanmi was a Nigerian-born scholar and the director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. In online tributes and statements, colleagues described him as a leading figure in his field. He was the author of a satirical essay collection, Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress .”

“The entire Carleton community is grieving the tragic death of Prof. Pius Adesanmi, a towering figure in African and post-
colonial scholarship,” wrote Benoit-Antoine Bacon, the university’s president and vice chancellor, on Twitter.

In a statement, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, expressed shock and sadness at the news.

“On behalf of the Canadian government, I extend my deepest condolences to all those who lost loved ones in this terrible plane crash,” she said.

Another Canadian victim, Danielle Moore, 24, posted on Facebook on Saturday that she was “so excited” and “beyond privileged” to announce she was attending the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

“Over the next week I’ll have the opportunity to discuss global environmental issues, share stories, and connect with other youth and leaders from all over the world,” she wrote. “I feel beyond privileged to be receiving this opportunity, and want to share as much with folks back home.”

Two Italians working with WFP, Virginia Chimenti and Maria Pilar Buzzetti, were also killed.

Buzzetti had been with WFP for almost four years as a consultant and office assistant. Speaking to the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, Buzzetti’s mother said her daughter usually called her upon arrival, and she immediately sensed that something was wrong when there was no call on Sunday.

Italian media outlets quoted family members on Sunday who described her as a humanitarian worker with a “passion that has taken her around the world.”

Other Italians killed in the crash included aid advocate Paolo Dieci, who worked with the International Committee for the Development of Peoples, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to end poverty across the globe.

Three Italians working with humanitarian agency Africa Tremila — treasurer Matteo Ravasio, Carlo Spini and his wife ­Gabriella Viggiani — were also killed.

According to Italian TV channel Rai, Spini was a retired doctor whose “love for Africa” had intensified after his retirement, the mayor of the couple’s hometown said.

At least seven British citizens were killed in the plane crash. Joanna Toole worked with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome and was on her way to the environment conference, where she was supposed to represent FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department starting Monday.

Georgetown Law student among the victims in Ethiopian plane crash

Her father, Adrian Toole, told the British broadcaster Sky News that he always worried about her constant flying.

“In all the hundreds of flights she’s taken, I’ve never been happy about her going on any of them, but I did appreciate that she had to do it in order to do her work,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever give up expecting her to actually ring.”

The Addis Ababa office of Catholic Relief Services was also hard hit, losing four senior Ethiopian staffers who were traveling to Nairobi for a training program related to the organization’s aid programs in Ethiopia.

They were identified as Sara Chalachew, Getnet Alemayehu, Sintayehu Aymeku and Mulusew Alemu, all senior managers.

“It’s a really big loss for us,” said country representative John Shumlansky.

The International Organization for Migration said its staffer Anne-Katrin Feigl, a young German working on a Sudan mission, died on the flight.

“The staff are in a state of shock,” said Catherine Northing, the chief of mission. “Her tragic passing has left a big hole, and we will all miss her greatly.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which works with displaced people in crisis zones, confirmed Monday that two of its staff members were passengers on the flight.

Karoline Aadland, a 28-year-old program finance coordinator for the Norwegian Red Cross, also died in the crash, according to a statement posted on the organization’s Twitter account.

Six Egyptian citizens were also among the victims. Namira Negm, legal counsel for the African Union and a former Egyptian ambassador to Rwanda, wrote in a Facebook post that two of the Egyptians, Suzan Abul Faraj and Esmat Orensa, were interpreters for the African Union who had been flying to attend the U.N. conference in Nairobi.

The International Association of Conference Interpreters confirmed that three of its members and the daughter of another were passengers on the flight.

“It has been the saddest day in AIIC history,” wrote communications officer Martin Field.

Two of the eight Chinese nationals who died in the crash also worked for the United Nations, as did Indian citizen Shikha Garg, a consultant with India’s Environment Ministry working with the U.N. Development Program. She, too, was headed to the environment conference.

In some cases, the victims were tourists. A young Russian couple, Yekaterina and Alexander Polyakov, had been traveling through Africa, posting videos on their social media accounts.

In Slovakia, Anton Hrnko, a member of parliament with the Slovak National Party, confirmed on social media that his wife, his son and his daughter were on the flight. Hrnko wrote that he was “in deep grief.”

On Facebook, Sicily’s regional president, Nello Musumeci, confirmed the death of Sebastiano Tusa, the region’s official cultural heritage councilor, which is the equivalent of a regional minister. Musumeci wrote that Tusa had been on his way to Kenya for work, and he mourned the politician as a “man who loved Sicily like few others.”

Fahim reported from Istanbul; Noack reported from Berlin. Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow, Niha Masih in New Delhi, and Emily Rauhala and Emily Tamkin in Washington contributed to this report.

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