UK aid worker among 157 people killed in Ethiopian Airlines tragedy

Rescue team collect remains of bodies amid debris at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Picture: MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images
Rescue team collect remains of bodies amid debris at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Picture: MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images
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A United Nations worker has been named as one of the seven British passengers who were among 157 people killed when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after take-off.

Joanna Toole, a 36-year-old from Devon, was said to have been among those killed on the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane destined for Nairobi when it hit the ground six minutes after departing Addis Ababa yesterday morning.

Colleagues at the United Nations fisheries and aquaculture department described her as a “wonderful human being”, while her father said she was a “very soft and loving” woman.

The Foreign Office confirmed that at least seven Britons were on board flight ET302, which crashed in Ethiopia at about 8:45am local time leaving no survivors.

Ethiopian Airlines said an Irish citizen was also on board, while the Irish foreign ministry said officials were supporting a family.

The airline said it had contacted the families of all victims, who came from 35 nations.

Ms Toole’s father Adrian, from Exmouth, said: “Everybody was very proud of her and the work she did, we’re still in a state of shock. Joanna was genuinely one of those people who you never heard a bad word about.”

Manuel Barange, a UN director, said he was “profoundly sad and lost for words” over her death, saying she had been travelling to Nairobi to represent the organisation at the UN Environment Assembly.

He tweeted: “A wonderful human being, who loved her work with a passion. Our love to her family and loved ones.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of the disaster.

“At this very difficult time my thoughts are with the families and friends of the British citizens on board and all those affected by this tragic incident,” she said.

Their identities started to emerge, with Slovakian MP Anton Hrnko saying “in deep grief” that his wife and two children were killed in the crash.

Aid workers, doctors and a prominent football official were also believed to be among the dead. While the cause is not yet known, the crash shared similarities with last year’s Lion Air jet plunging into the Java sea, killing 189. That also involved a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashing minutes after takeoff.

At the time of the crash visibility was clear, but air traffic monitor Flightradar24 said “vertical speed was unstable after take-off”.

The pilot had sent out a distress call and was given the all clear to return, according to the airline’s chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam, who was pictured leafing through what little was left of the wreckage as he visited the freshly ground earth under the blue sky of Ethiopia’s capital.

Senior captain Yared Getachew had a “commendable performance” having completed more than 8,000 hours in the air, the airline said.

The plane had flown from Johannesburg to Addis earlier on Sunday morning, and had undergone a “rigorous” testing on 4 February, a statement continued.

Records show the plane was new and delivered to the airline as recently as November.

An eyewitness said there was an intense fire when the plane crashed.

“The blast and the fire were so strong that we couldn’t get near it,” he said. “Everything is burnt down. There are 
four helicopters at the scene now.”