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Ethiopian Airlines crash: Echoes of lives lost emerge from devastation at crash site


Near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — At least five of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash were confirmed on Tuesday to have been Americans, including Melvin and Bennett Riffel from Redding, California. Melvin’s wife Brittney is expecting their first child. Others who died include Mucaad Hussein Abdullah of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, New Jersey native Matthew Vecere and Army Captain Antoine Lewis of Matteson, Illinois, who was doing missionary work in Africa.

CBS News correspondent Debora Patta visited the crash site in Ethiopia, where the plane came down soon after take-off on Tuesday. Huge piles of dirt obscure a huge crater caused by the ill-fated Boeing 737 Max 8’s nosedived into the ground. Mangled pieces of wreckage lie strewn across the site, which is now guarded by armed militia.

The sheer size and depth of the crater in the arid ground give a sense of just how powerful the impact was.

The two “black box” flight recorders of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 have been recovered from the wreckage, and will be the focus of the ongoing investigation into why the plane went down.

Patta said the mood around the crash site couldn’t have been more miserable on Tuesday — mangled wreckage everywhere, and in amongst the charred personal belongings of passengers and crew; reminders of the 157 people who died in the crash.

Some of the collected possessions were piled into a large mound. Patta saw a tiny girl’s purple fairy princess dress, a tattered copy of the children’s classic “Anne of Green Gables.” Nearby, a scribbled to-do list with cryptic reminders of important tasks: “book acc in New York City, and organize meetings with delegates next week.”

Many of those on board the flight were young people who wanted to change the world. The United Nations lost 21 staff members in the crash — people who worked to improve the lives of others in some of the most troubled spots on Earth.

Crash scene investigators, including a team of Americans, were to comb the area for more answers on Tuesday. Their job: to piece together what happened in the six minutes after take-off that resulted in the devastating scene left on the ground outside Addis Ababa.