A Toronto man saw a months-long wait draw to a bittersweet end on Tuesday as he returned to Canada with the bodies of two relatives who were killed in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane this year.
Mohamad Ali said he waited seven months before he was cleared to go to Ethiopia and retrieve the remains of his sister Amina Odowa and her five-year-old daughter Sophia Abdulkadir.
The two were among 18 Canadians who died in March when the plane went down en route to Kenya, killing all 157 people on board.
Ali said touching their caskets for the first time brought him a sense of lightness, energy, and a measure of peace.
“Coming with them all the way, I feel their presence all over me right now,” Ali said. “This is very important. It feels good now they are with us.”
The mother and daughter were among a group of seven Canadians who were repatriated at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Tuesday morning. But the journey for Odowa and Sophia is set to continue through the week.
Ali said he plans to fly with his sister and niece’s remains to Edmonton on Tuesday night and bury them side-by-side on Friday in a small Muslim ceremony.
He said doing so will allow Odowa’s mother and her other two daughters, ages four and eight, to visit her grave and say prayers.
Ali said the burial will help bring the closure that’s proved elusive for the family since the crash, adding the wait to claim their bodies was particularly trying.
“We’ve been very unsettled,” he said. ”We couldn’t do a lot of things like move forward because we were on standby the last seven months, waiting for the remains to come.”
The Ethiopian Airlines flight left the capital city of Addis Ababa on its way to Nairobi, Kenya, on March 10. The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed just six minutes into the flight.
The incident was strikingly similar to last year’s crash of a Lion Air jet in Indonesia, which involved the same type of aircraft coming to harm moments after takeoff.
The crashes prompted a widespread grounding of the 737 Max 8 while concerns about its safety were investigated.
In several lawsuits filed on behalf of Canadian victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, plaintiffs allege the pilots were in a tug-of-war with the plane’s automated flight system, manually trying to climb while the computer caused the craft to dive repeatedly and ultimately crash.
Canadian victims included a renowned Carleton University professor, an accountant with the City of Calgary and a 24-year-old Winnipeg woman on her way to the United Nations Environment Assembly.
American authorities including the United States House of Representatives, the Department of Justice and the Transportation Department inspector general are investigating how the Max 8 was certified for flight by the Federal Aviation Administration.
— With files from the Associated Press
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press