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UN chief ‘deeply saddened’ by Ethiopia plane crash which killed more than 150, including 19 UN staff

An Ethiopian  Airlines fight crashed shortly after take off from the capital Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing more than 150 people on board. The UN  Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives” , as reports emerged that UN staff were also among the dead.

The Boeing airliner bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, took off at 8:44 am local time, losing contact with air traffic control atj Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, just six minutes later, according to news reports. The plane was reportedly carrying passengers from more than 35 different countries. 

Mr. Guterres conveyed his “heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to the victims’ families and loved ones, including those of United Nations staff members, as well as sincere condolences to the Government and people of Ethiopia”.

According to the UN Department of Safety and Security in Kenya, 19 UN staff perished in the crash. The World Food Programme (WFP) lost seven staff, the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) lost two, as did the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Sudan, World Bank and UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) each lost one staff member. Six staff from the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) were also tragically killed.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, although weather conditions were reportedly good and the plane went down in a field near Bishoftu, around 35 miles southeast of the capital.

The UN is in contact with the Ethiopian authorities and “working closely with them to establish the details of United Nations personnel who lost their lives in this tragedy” the Secretary-General stated.

The disaster happened on the eve of the UN Environment Assembly when Heads of State, environment ministers and thousands of others will convene for five days in the Kenyan capital.

UN officials express condolences, sadness

Many senior UN officials took to Social Media to express their condolences and sadness. On Twitter, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO,) sent his “heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families”, saying that one FAO staff member was among the victims.

Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley tweeted  that “the WFP family mourns today”, adding that “we will do all that is humanly possible to help the families at this painful time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers”, he said.

In a statement issued later in th day, he said Mr. Guterres had called him "to express his solidarity and support for the WFP family, and I want to thank him and all of the others around the world for their expressions of condolences."

"As we mourn, let us reflect that each of these WFP colleagues were willing to travel and work far from their homes and loved ones to help make the world a better place to live. That was their calling, as it is for the rest of the WFP family," he added.

Houlin Zhao, ITU SecretaryGeneral tweeted his "sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the  plane crash" Noting that two ITU staff were on the flight, he said: "Our colleagues in Addis are providing support to their families during this difficult time."

“All of us at UNICEF mourn the tragic loss of our UN colleagues and all those who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash today. May they rest in peace. Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones”, Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, tweeted.

On behalf of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), whose Headquarters are in Nairobi, Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif tweeted here “deepest condolences and prayers to the Great Nation of Ethiopia and to the families of the passengers and crew members who lost their lives in this tragedy. May they rest in eternal peace”.

High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a condolence statement saying: “UNHCR has suffered today a huge loss”.

IOM Director-General António Vitorino issued a statement expressing his deep sadness over the lives lost, “including a young IOM staff member Anne-Katrin Feigl”, who “was en route to a training course in Nairobi as part of her role as a Junior Professional Officer”. 

Catherine Northing, Chief of the IOM Mission in Sudan where Ms. Feigl worked, called her “an extremely valued colleague and popular staff member, committed and professional”, saying “her tragic passing has left a big hole and we will all miss her greatly”.  

As a mark of respect IOM said it would “fly its flag at half-mast at its offices tomorrow, as will the UN and it’s agencies”.

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