Ethiopian crash victims include decorated U.S. military captain who had served in Afghanistan, international humanitarian workers

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Thursday, March 14, 2019
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ABC News shares an update on the plane crash in Ethiopia, including what we know so far about the Americans who were killed.

They worked to bring food to the hungry, medicine to the sick and clean water to people living in areas without it. Among the 157 people who died in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jetliner Sunday were dozens of international aid workers hailing from several countries in Africa and around the globe.

RELATED: The latest on the investigation into the plane crash in Ethiopia that killed 157


Eight Americans were among the dozens killed in the crash. Here are the ones who have been identified.

Antoine Lewis

Lewis, 39, was a decorated Army captain from Illinois who had served in Afghanistan. He was in Ethiopia doing Christian missionary work, his parents said.

They said he had made multiple trips to Africa and that he equally valued where his ancestors came from and the country he served.

One of nine siblings, Lewis leaves behind a large family including a wife and 15-year-old son.

Matt Vecere

Vecere, who grew up in New Jersey and later moved to California, was a writer and avid surfer. His employer released a statement saying, "Our hearts are with Matt's family and all who lost their lives in this tragedy."

Vecere, who lives in Long Beach, was a lifelong humanitarian committed to environmental justice. At IQAir, he worked to improve conditions in countries without access to air quality monitoring. He had traveled to Haiti dozens of times since the 2010 earthquake.

Loved ones remembered him as a selfless person who wouldn't hesitate to help others. Like many of the many of the international aid workers who were also on the flight, Vecere was on his way to the United Nations Environment Assembly. His family said he was excited to attend the event for the first time.

Dr. Manisha Nukavarapu

Nukavarapu, an internal medical resident at East Tennessee State University, was on her way to Kenya to visit her sister, who had just given birth to triplets, ABC News reports. Nukavarapu was described as a a "delightful person and dedicated physician."

"It is with great regret that we mourn the loss of one of our own. Please keep Dr. Nukavarapu and her family in your thoughts and prayers," the Dean of Medicine said in a statement.

Mel and Bennett Riffel

The two brothers, who both lived in Redding, California, were on vacation together. The flight was part of a multi-country trip the pair were taking to celebrate the upcoming birth of Mel's daughter.


Described as dedicated and impassioned employees of nonprofit environmental, immigration and refugee organizations, they lost their lives alongside pastors, professors, ambassadors, police chiefs and respected writers and sports leaders. All were on board the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner when it crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, en route to Nairobi, Kenya.

At least one international victim had ties to the U.S. Anne Musyoki worked in Nairobi for the San Francisco-based company Tech Soup. She was the company's Global Regional Lead for Africa.

A representative for the company said she was "driven to help non-profits, but also a fun person to be around," adding, "A bit of light in a meeting, a sparkle in her eyes, knew what she wanted, worked really hard, and was always there wherever she had to connect with us."

At least five Ethiopian nationals who worked for aid agencies died in the crash. Save the Children mourned the loss of Tamirat Mulu Demessie, a technical adviser on child protection in emergencies who "worked tirelessly to ensure that vulnerable children are safe during humanitarian crises," the group said in a statement. Catholic Relief Services lost four Ethiopian staff members who had worked with the organization for as long as a decade. The four were traveling to Nairobi for training, the group said.

Immaculate Odero of Kenya, who served as CARE's regional security officer for the Horn of Africa, was "dedicated to keeping her colleagues in the region safe," and took on her role "with great enthusiasm," the agency said.

The Red Cross; The United Nations' World Food Program; the International Committee for the Development of Peoples; the World Council of Churches; and Civil Rights Defenders, an international human rights group based in Stockholm, were among other humanitarian and cultural groups reporting losses. A family of six from Canada, African expatriates visiting families back home and tourists were also among the victims, who hailed from 35 countries.

Kenya lost 32 people, more than any country. Relatives of 25 of the victims had been contacted, Transport Minister James Macharia said. "They are in shock like we are," he said. "They are grieving."

Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and some had been on their way to a large U.N. environmental conference set to begin Monday in Nairobi. At least 21 staff members from the United Nations were killed in the crash, said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who led a moment of silence at a meeting. "A global tragedy has hit close to home," Guterres said.

Irishman Michael Ryan was among the seven dead from the Food Program. The Rome-based aid worker and engineer known as Mick was formerly from Lahinch, County Clare, in Ireland's west. His projects included creating safe conditions for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and assessing the damage to rural roads in Nepal that were blocked by landslides.

"Michael was doing life-changing work in Africa," said Irish premier Leo Varadkar.

Mombasa, Kenya, native Cedric Asiavugwa worked with groups helping refugees in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania before he enrolled in law school at Georgetown university, the university said. Also a student of international business and economic law at Georgetown, Asiavugwa was remembered by family and friends as a "kind, compassionate and gentle soul."

In Italy, the International Committee for the Development of Peoples mourned the loss of one its founders, Paolo Dieci.

"The world of international cooperation has lost one of its most brilliant advocates and Italian civil society has lost a precious point of reference," wrote the group, which partners with UNICEF in northern Africa.

Joanna Toole of Exmouth in Britain's Devon County, was heading to Nairobi to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly.

Toole, 36, was "bonkers" about animals her entire life, and her work "was not a job - it was her vocation," according to her father, Adrian Toole, who said his daughter had traveled to the remote Faroe Islands to prevent whaling.

Karim Saafi was co-chair and "foremost brother" of the African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe, the group said on its Facebook page. The 38-year-old French-Tunisian, who left behind a fiancee, was on an official mission representing the group at the time of the crash, the group said.

"Karim's "noble contribution to youth employment, diaspora engagement and Africa's socio-economic development will never be forgotten," the post read.

Explorers, preachers, professors and police chiefs were among others who lost their lives.

Sarah Auffret, a French-British national living in Tromsoe, northern Norway, was a staffer with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators. She was on her way to Nairobi to talk about a Clean Seas project in connection with the U.N. Environment Assembly this week, the company said in a statement.

Abiodun Oluremi Bashu was an ex-ambassador and career foreign service officer in Nigeria, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The department said it had received the news of his death "with great shock" and prayed for "the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss."

Bashu was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1951 and joined the foreign service in 1976. He had served in different capacities both at headquarters and foreign missions such as Vienna, Austria, Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire and Tehran, Iran. He also served as secretary to the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the time of his death, Bashu was on contract with the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa.

Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian professor with Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, was on his way to a meeting of the African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council in Nairobi, John O. Oba, Nigeria's representative to the panel, told The Associated Press.

The author of "Naija No Dey Carry Last," a collection of satirical essays, Adesanmi was director of Carleton's Institute of African Studies, according to the university's website. He was also a former assistant professor of comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University.

"Pius was a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship and his sudden loss is a tragedy," said Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Carleton's president and vice chancellor.

ABC Owned Stations contributed to this report.