Army captain from Matteson killed in Ethiopian Airlines crash

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019
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A suburban Matteson native was on board the plane that crashed in Ethiopia on Sunday. He was in Africa on a church mission.

MATTESON, Ill. (WLS) -- A man from south suburban Matteson was among the 157 killed in a plane crash in Ethiopia Sunday.

The family of 39-year-old Antoine Lewis is mourning his death and describe him as a man with a brilliant career. Lewis was born and raised in Matteson, one of nine siblings.

Lewis was a decorated military captain, working his way up in the Army, and serving in Afghanistan. His parents said he was stationed in Ottawa, Canada, and left on vacation to go to Ethiopia to do Christian missionary work.

RELATED: Remembering victims of Ethiopian crash

Lewis was one of the eight Americans on board the Ethiopian Airlines flight en-route to Kenya, when the plane crashed moments after takeoff. The Rich Central graduate went on to college and then into the service, telling his family he wanted to spend his life serving people.

"He went doing the things that he loved, that he had a passion for," said Antoinette Lewis, the victim's mother. "His passion was just to make a better world, make a better place, both here and our mother country."

His family said Lewis eventually planned to start a business or charity and build a home in Africa following his retirement from the military in a few years. They said he had made multiple trips to Africa and that he equally valued where his ancestors came from and the country he served.

"It makes it all the more surreal that a flame that was burning so bright could be out like that," said Antoinette Lewis, Jr., the victim's sister.

RELATED: Ethiopian Airline crash: Black box found after 157 die in plane crash

Lewis leaves behind a wife and 15-year-old son, and a large family.

"He was also stationed in South Korea, he was a military man, he loved it, he was moving up through the military. He went in as an enlisted man and he got his undergraduate degree and his graduate degree. He's got a 15-year-old son," said his father Rodney Lewis.

His wife said she is still in disbelief. She called her husband a loving man trying to become a better version of himself each day.

The community in south suburban Matteson has rallied around the family as well. Mayor Sheila Chalmer-Currin is a good friend of the family, they have been neighbors for 30 years. She watched Antoine grow up from a boy into a man driven to succeed.

"A young man, so faith driven, that wanted to do even more, so it's just remarkable that we embrace these types of individuals in this community," said Mayor Chalmer-Currin. "I'm truly devastated that this happened and i am there for this family."

China and Indonesia, two important markets for Chicago-based Boeing, have grounded their 737 MAX 8 fleets after the crash and so have some other airlines. Tuesday morning, 737 MAX 8 planes in the UK were grounded.

RELATED: Ethiopian Airline crash: UK, other international aviation authorities ground Boeing 737 Max 8 as U.S. airlines continue to use

In the U.S., the FAA said it doesn't plan to ground the plane, but this is now the second deadly crash in less than six months involving that same Boeing model.

Boeing's president and CEO expressed sympathy for the crash victims and their families and says the company is confident in the safety of the 737 MAX.