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Boeing : Families and Ethiopian farmers feel in the dark over Boeing's aid offer

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07/11/2019 | 05:21pm EDT
A villager farms next to a fenced site where Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 crashed last March in Dhaka Bora kebele, near Bishoftu

GARA-BOKKA, Ethiopia/NAIROBI (Reuters) - A week after Boeing Co offered $100 million (£79.83 million) to help families and communities affected by the deadly crashes of its 737 MAX planes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, affected farmers in Ethiopia, victims' relatives and the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments say they have not heard anything about the funds.

GARA-BOKKA, Ethiopia/NAIROBI (Reuters) - A week after Boeing Co offered $100 million (£79.83 million) to help families and communities affected by the deadly crashes of its 737 MAX planes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, affected farmers in Ethiopia, victims' relatives and the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments say they have not heard anything about the funds.

The planemaker said it would give the money to local governments and non-profit organizations, adding the funds were not connected with a slew of lawsuits from victims' families.

It is unclear who will qualify for the aid or what the timeline is for the offer, which was unusual in that it comes from a planemaker rather than an airline.

Farmers where an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed on March 10 say their lands have been fenced off since, with the site still littered with small shards of debris, and they cannot afford to rent plots elsewhere.

They told Reuters this week they were not aware of any offer from Boeing.

Neither the Ethiopian nor the Kenyan governments, whose countries suffered the most deaths in the crash of Flight ET302, have had any discussions with Boeing, officials said.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said the airline had no details on Boeing's offer.

"There is no information," he said.

In its statement last week, Boeing said, "These funds will support education, hardship and living expenses for impacted families, community programs, and economic development in impacted communities".

FAMILIES' ANGER

Some victims' families were angered by the July 3 announcement, describing it as a publicity stunt.

The crash in Ethiopia and of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia in October killed a total of 346 people. Preliminary investigations show the pilots, both flying Boeing's new 737 MAX 8 model, struggled to override an automated system that erroneously pointed the plane's nose down. The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide after the second crash and regulators must approve a fix and new pilot training before the jets can fly again.

In Gara-bokka, the dusty plain that was the site of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, farmers said Ethiopian and airline officials had visited them in April but nothing had happened since.

"We were once told that a statue in memory of the victims and a health post for the local community will be built, and they also promised that the road to the crash site will also be built so that it will be easily accessible for visitors," said Malka Galato, 47, standing by the barbed wire fence protecting the site.

Malka and two other farmers told Reuters that some residents need to find new land to farm, since their fields are now fenced off. No one from Boeing had spoken to them, they said.

Several families told Reuters they want some of the money to fund a memorial at the site. Others suggested Boeing could fund counselling. Some questioned whether funds given to government or charities might be vulnerable to corruption.

Families said Boeing has not sought their opinions.

Boeing did not respond specifically when asked about a lack of information so far on the disbursement of funds, about contacts between the planemaker and officials, local residents and victims' relatives, and about the request from some families for funds for a memorial or for professional counselling, as well as concern about potential corruption.

Boeing spokesman Peter Pedraza said on Monday, "We've been assessing a variety of ways to assist the families and communities impacted and determined that this is a constructive step that we can take now ... We're working through the process. Boeing plans to partner with local governments and non-profit organizations to address family needs."

ENCLOSED 'IN MY GRIEF'

Paul Njoroge's wife Carolyne, 6-year-old son Ryan, 4-year-old daughter Kelli and baby Rubi were aboard the plane, along with his mother-in-law Anne. During Canada Day this month, he could not face seeing happy families.

"I stayed enclosed in my little house, in my grief," he wrote in a letter to Boeing that he shared with Reuters. "How much would it cost Boeing to personally apologise to the families of the victims? To offer professional counselling for all families who are grieving?" he asked.

Families also said they struggled to imagine how Boeing defined "communities affected by the crash" since people from 35 countries were aboard the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

Polish citizen Pawel Konarski is mourning his Kenyan wife Stella and 1-year-old son Adam.

"The first thing they (Boeing) should do is reach the families to give their condolences," he said. "The second thing, they should offer professional counselling."

Many families said Boeing should talk to them.

"Why does Boeing take so long to acknowledge us?" asked Canadian Clariss Moore, whose daughter Danielle was killed. "Give our loved ones (the) respect that they deserve."

A senior Boeing executive attended a vigil for the Ethiopian community in Seattle shortly after the crash, according to a television report, but the company has not yet said whether it has had any direct contact with families affected by the two crashes.

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Frances Kerry)

By Dawit Endeshaw and Katharine Houreld

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