“I am coming to Nairobi. I have forgotten my phone, but we will talk once I get there,” these were the last words Mr Yared Getachew, the pilot of the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 uttered to his mother as he prepared to steer the aircraft for the less than two-hour flight to Nairobi.
It was a trip he had done many times before, and even for his family this was nothing to worry about given that he had flown for more than 8,000 hours as he charted a path in aviation.
His confidence that fateful morning was confirmed by his mother, Dr Rayan Shapi, whom he last spoke to before starting the journey that ended tragically by claiming all 157 people on board.
Little did the 29-year-old pilot know that he would never live to see his family, given that minutes after take-off his plane developed technical problems and crashed six minutes later as he attempted to make a turnaround and land back at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.
Seconds earlier, he had reported to the Ethiopian radar control technical difficulties with the aircraft after take-off and was cleared to do a turn-back and land at Bole.
He, together with 157 passengers, never made it back. “Yared has been an excellent pilot. For the time that he has been working with the Ethiopian Airlines he has never been involved in any mishap.
“He is a trained pilot operating 737 Max,” Mr Getachew’s uncle Khalid Shapi, who is also the family spokesman, said in an interview with the Nation after landing in Mombasa.
Mr Yared was half Kenyan and Ethiopian. He has worked with the airline for almost 10 years, rising from a cadet to a senior captain.
He had more than 8,000 flight hours, with commendable performance commanding the flight along with first officer Ahmed Nur Mohammod Nur who had 200 flight hours.
On Tuesday, emotions ran high as the family arrived at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, where relatives will converge to conduct last prayers for their kin. Mr Khalid arrived with his sister (Getachew’s mother) at around 3pm before they proceeded to Nyali where relatives are meeting.
“The deceased’s father is in Ethiopia following up on ongoing investigations,” said Mr Shapi.
They were received by relatives who were waiting for them at the airport. The family, friends and relatives were set to conduct prayers for the dead — known as Swalatul Ghai’b — according to Islamic rituals.
The prayers are conducted for a dead Muslim whose body has not been found. “We are going to conduct the prayers at Baluchi Mosque. We have no other programmes,” said Mr Shapi.