Grieving relatives gather at Ethiopian Airlines crash site


It was a pilgrimage of grief for relatives of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, as they trekked to the site where no bodies were recovered to mourn.

In Ethiopia, an ancient land of pilgrimage, people are making a grim, new journey of grief.

One by one, friends and families of the 157 people killed on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 came to the crash site on Wednesday with quiet offerings to the dead.

Relatives react at the scene

They were placed under a makeshift, bright green floral arch, in striking contrast to the arid land. White roses were plucked from a bucket and placed in a slender frame that wavered in the wind.

A family member reacts at the scene
Some of the relatives staggered with sorrow.

One man was supported by others as he cried out. They sought footing on the freshly churned and blackened landscape.

Relatives react at the scene

Others stood in silence: the security forces in camouflage blue, the searchers in face masks, the diplomats in polished shoes.

 "We owe it to the families to understand what happened," said British ambassador Alastair McPhail, who represented nine of his countrymen among the victims.

Relatives react at the scene

The dead came from 35 countries. Around the world, relatives numb with grief began a bewildering journey to the site outside Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

Farmers, some with their cattle, witnessed the plane going down. When they hurried to the smoking ground, they found little there .

Relatives react at the scene

A pilot, Solomon Gizaw, was among the first to see the crash site from above. He said it appeared as though the plane had slipped right into the earth.

Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Tewolde Gebremariam said the same, noting that the aircraft was "totally sunken under the ground".

Workers walk past flowers laid at the scene

Yellow tape rings the scene. Onlookers watch at the edge, while close relatives have the heartbreaking right to go inside. Some carry armfuls of flowers.

A family member holds a framed photo of loved one at the scene

"We want to go there often and make offerings," said Dawit Gebremichael, who lost his sister.

A few have visited the site with little fanfare. As the world first learned about the crash on Sunday, Ethiopia's young new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went to bear witness and grieve.

Workers erect floral installations at the scene

Ethiopia is lined with footpaths to ancient churches and other places of reflection. Now it is Africa's aviation hub, with jet contrails streaking across the sky. 

Flowers are left at the scene

The public pilgrimage to the crash site began with Tewolde. He stood alone in the gaping crater, holding a piece of wreckage, in an image that swiftly made its way around the world.

Investigators have now arrived in a multinational inquiry into the crash.

Chinese relatives of victims who died in the crash visit and grieve
Chinese relatives of victims who died in Ethiopian Airlines crash have visited the scene of the disaster. (AAP)

New arrivals on Wednesday included Indonesia's recently appointed ambassador, who told reporters he had arrived in the country only a day earlier. He mourned one of his countrymen.

Chinese aviation experts at the site paused and made a modest offering to the victims: incense, fruit and pieces of Ethiopian bread known as injera.

They bowed in unison and resumed their work.

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