Volunteers search Ethiopian Airlines crash site for Israeli victims

Given problems of identification at the charred disaster site, Ethiopian Airlines said it would take at least five days to start handing remains to families.

March 13, 2019 12:24
4 minute read.
Volunteers search Ethiopian Airlines crash site for Israeli victims

ZAKA volunteers search the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 for the remains of two Israeli victims. (photo credit: ZAKA)


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The ZAKA volunteers sent to Ethiopia at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retrieve the remains of the two Israeli passengers who died in the Sunday crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 began searching the crash site Tuesday for the bodies of the two victims.

The crash claimed the lives of all 157 passengers on board, and also led to the suspension of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 throughout dozens of countries and airports.

The Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and the Israeli Consul in Ethiopia Ofer Zach are attempting to obtain approval to receive complete access to the crash site and the onsite morgue for the volunteers, so that they may do their job swiftly and effectively.

“This is a very difficult scene, with remains scattered across a hilltop in a radius of over one kilometer. As a result of the state of the bodies, it is likely that identification can only be done with forensic measures that will take time," noted ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.

While grounded in Ethiopia for the foreseeable future, the volunteers will be receiving assistance in the field with the aid of the consulate, as well as food and necessary items from the "tireless efforts" of Chabad emissary Rabbi Eliyahu Chaviv, according to ZAKA.

The names of the two Israeli passengers who died in the crash were released to the media on Tuesday. Shimon Re’em Bitton, a civic defense contractor en route to Kenya, is survived by his wife and five children. Avraham Matzliah, a successful hi-tech businessman, left behind two daughters currently serving in the IDF.

Netanyahu opened up Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting by sending condolences to the families of the victims of the Ethiopian Airliner that crashed on its way to Nairobi from Addis Ababa, and by offering aid to the Ethiopian government.

“I want to send condolences to Ethiopia and to the families of the victims,” Netanyahu said, adding that if there is anything that Israel can do to help Ethiopia at this time, it will do so. He said that this message has been relayed to the Ethiopian government.

Given problems of identification at the charred disaster site, Ethiopian Airlines said it would take at least five days to start handing remains to families.

The victims came from more than 30 nations, and included nearly two dozen UN staff.


The new variant of the 737, the world's most-sold modern passenger aircraft, is viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades and 4,661 more are on order.

As noted earlier, dozens of countries, including Britain, France, Germany, India, Belgium and Ireland, announced Tuesday that they will ban the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts from entering their air-space.

Many other countries are choosing to wait until a full investigation is complete before making a decision to suspend MAX 8 flights, however, a great portion of those countries claim they are ready to act immediately to remove these aircrafts if new information emerges indication there is a problem.

The US aviation regulator said on Tuesday it would not ground Boeing Co 737 MAX planes after the crash, bucking a trend of countries around the world that have suspended the aircraft's operations.

The three US airlines using the 737 MAX - Southwest Airlines Co, American Airlines Group Inc and United Airlines - stood by the aircraft, although many potential passengers took to social media to express concerns, asking if they could change flights or cancel.

The cause of Sunday's crash, which followed another disaster with a 737 MAX five months ago in Indonesia that killed 189 people, remains unknown. On Monday, the FAA released details of a series of design changes and training requirements mandated from Boeing on the MAX fleet after the Indonesia crash.

Boeing, the world's biggest plane maker, which has seen billions of dollars wiped off its market value since the crash in Ethiopia, said it understood the actions but retained "full confidence" in the 737 MAX and had safety as its priority.

"Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT," Trump tweeted, lamenting that product developers always sought to go an unnecessary step further when "old and simpler" was superior.

"I don't know about you, but I don't want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!"

Trump did not refer to Boeing or recent accidents, but his comments echoed an automation debate that partially lies at the center of an investigation into October's Lion Air crash in Indonesia. A focus there is the role of a software system designed to push the plane down, alongside airline training and repair standards.

Boeing says it plans to update the software in coming weeks.

Herb Keinon, Hagay Hacohen and Reuters contributed to this report.

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