UN staff and humanitarian workers among victims of Ethiopian Airlines crash

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/11/2019, 12:16 p.m.
The ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday was packed with humanitarian workers and international experts, ...
The wreckage of the Ethiopian Airlines plane

By Eliza Mackintosh, CNN

(CNN) -- The ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday was packed with humanitarian workers and international experts, many of whom were bound for a major United Nations environmental summit in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Twenty-one UN staff members were among the 157 people killed after Flight ET302 plummeted into a field outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UN officials said on Monday, revising down a death toll provided to CNN earlier in the day.

The airline said passengers from at least 35 countries were on the flight, often referred to as a "UN shuttle" for ferrying staff between Addis Ababa, home of the African Union headquarters, and Nairobi, the UN's headquarters in Africa.

But the plane was particularly full due to the UN Environment Assembly, which began on Monday. The summit, described as the world's highest-level decision-making body on the environment, brings together member states to tackle environmental challenges.

UN officials paid their respects at the opening of the assembly in Nairobi, where UN flags were lowered to half-mast.

"The environmental community is in mourning today," Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of the UN Environment Program, said in a statement. "Many of those that lost their lives were en route to provide support and participate in the UN Environment Assembly. We lost UN staff, youth delegates traveling to the Assembly, seasoned scientists, members of academia and other partners."

The dead included at least 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, nine Ethiopians, eight people from the United States, China and Italy, and seven from France and the United Kingdom, according to the airline. The victims' identities have not yet been officially confirmed.

Among those bound for the summit was British citizen Joanna Toole, who was due to represent the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), according to the director of her department, fisheries and aquaculture.

"So profoundly sad and lost for words," Manuel Barange said in a tweet. "A wonderful human being, who loved her work with a passion."

The FAO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Sudan, the World Bank and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) each lost one staff member in the crash. The Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) lost two, as did the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Six staff from the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) were killed, as were seven employees of the World Food Program (WFP).

Irish national Michael "Mick" Ryan, global deputy chief engineer for the WFP, was among the dead. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar shared a tribute to Ryan on Twitter, saying: "Michael was doing life-changing work in Africa with the World Food Programme. Deepest sympathies to family, colleagues & friends."

Ryan appeared in a video shared by WFP on Facebook last April, explaining his work in Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, to create safe grounds for Rohingya refugees ahead of monsoon season.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that two of its six nationals who died in the crash worked for the UN, including one Hong Kong resident.