4 Christian aid workers among those killed in Ethiopian Airlines crash

Forensics investigators and recovery teams collect personal effects and other materials from the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 on March 12, 2019 in Bishoftu, Ethiopia. All 157 passengers and crew perished after the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 Flight came down six minutes after taking off from Bole Airport in Addis Ababa. | Photo: Getty Images/Jemal Countess

Four Christian aid workers on their way to attend training were among the 157 people killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash last weekend.

Sara Chalachew, Getnet Alemayehu, Sintayehu Aymeku and Mulusew Alemu, employees of Catholic Relief Services, were on board the fallen Boeing 737 MAX 8 that was en route to Nairobi, Kenya. The airliner crashed just minutes after taking off from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday.

CRS is the official international humanitarian arm of the Catholic community in the United States and provides much-needed assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable people in over 100 countries.

CRS has worked for nearly 60 years in Ethiopia to respond to natural and man-made disasters that have affected the East African nation. It has led recovery projects for drought and food-prone areas and has rebuilt individual and community assets through aid programs. 

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that four members of our staff were killed when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed just after take-off Sunday morning,” a CRS statement reads. “All four individuals were Ethiopian nationals traveling to Nairobi to attend a training on our behalf.”

According to the charity, Aymeku served in Ethiopia for over a year as a senior procurement officer and is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Alemayehu worked for CRS in Ethiopia since 2009. Until 2018, Alemayehu served as a procurement officer and later as a senior procurement officer. In December 2018, he began serving as a senior project officer of procurement and compliance. He is survived by a wife and one daughter.

Chalachew served at the aid agency in Ethiopia since 2010. She began working as a commodity accountant and senior commodity accounts officer in the logistics department. Last December, she began serving as a senior project officer for grants.

Alemu has worked for CRS in Ethiopia since May 2015 as a finance officer, project grant accountant and senior finance officer.

“Although we are in mourning, we celebrate the lives of these colleagues and the selfless contributions they made to our mission, despite the risks and sacrifices that humanitarian work can often entail,” the Catholic agency said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and all of those who lost loved ones as a result of this tragedy."

The Ethiopian Airlines flight was the second  Boeing 737 Max 8 jet to have crashed in the last five months following a Lion Air crash that occurred 12 minutes after taking off in Jakarta, Indonesia, that killed 189 people.

The pilot of the Ethiopian Airlines crash plane reported a problem to flight control shortly after takeoff and asked to return to the airport. But the plane would not make it back and crashed near the town of Bishoftu, about 40 miles away from Bole International Airport.

As dozens upon dozens of families are now faced with living the reality of life without their loved ones, CRS is also feeling the pain of losing their co-workers.

Al Jazeera reports that flowers and candles have been placed at the entrance of CRS offices in memory of Chalachew, Alemayehu, Aymeku and Alemu.

"We are shocked," Felicity Loowe, CRS' head of operations in Ethiopia, told the Arabic news outlet. "We are thinking about our colleagues and we miss them."

Loowe added that the four aid workers were “incredibly well-respected and valued” within the charity.

“They were well-known and well-loved by everyone,” she said. “They were very strong, dedicated and committed individuals. We will really miss them.”

Since the Ethiopian Airlines crash, at least 40 countries, including the United States, and multiple airlines have grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 jets.

As reported Wednesday, American pilots had issued complaints to federal authorities about perceived safety problems with how the aircraft performed in flight.

According to CNN, one captain reported an autopilot anomaly that led to a brief nose-down situation. Another pilot reported that the aircraft pitched nose down after the autopilot was engaged during departure.

According to USA Today, one captain of a November 2018 flight called the aircraft’s manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

The U.S. federal government is ordering Boeing to make safety-related software updates for its 737 Max 8 planes. According to the Wall Street Journal, updates to the software were already in the works prior to last weekend’s crash.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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