March 20, 2019 / 1:25 PM / a month ago

Youngest captain, loving son: Ethiopian pilots honoured in death

ADDIS ABABA, March 20 (Reuters) - The dreams of the two young men soared as high as the Ethiopian Airlines planes they proudly flew.

Handsome, cosmopolitan Yared Getachew was to marry another plane captain this year. Studious, serious Ahmednur Mohammed rented his first apartment with his maiden paycheck in February.

Their lives, along with 155 others, ended when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 plunged into a field moments after take-off in a still unexplained disaster.

Yared, 29, was captain; Ahmednur, 25, his first officer.

Yared was a popular and brilliant student who became the airline’s youngest ever captain at 27, said his father Getachew Tessema, a retired plastic surgeon and dentist.

He spoke to Reuters after a ceremony at the Kenyan embassy in Addis Ababa to honour the 32 Kenyan victims from the crash. Yared’s mother was Kenyan, making him a citizen of two nations.

“I’m very bitter,” 80-year-old Getachew said, sitting hunched with his head in his hand as he reflected on Yared’s shattered marriage plans.

“At least if he had had a child,” he trailed off painfully as friends nodded in understanding.

Yared’s brother Meno Getachew Tessema, 39, sat next to his father, sometimes putting an arm around him as the ceremony progressed. Yared visited Meno’s family in Toronto when the young pilot came to train on flight simulators in Miami twice in the past two years.

By the time of the crash, Yared had amassed 8,100 hours of flying experience, the airline said, unusual at his age but no surprise to the family. They remembered him as a committed student who shone at school as a child in his mother’s native Kenya and as a teenager in his father’s home country Ethiopia.

He went straight into Ethiopian Airlines’ Aviation Academy after high school. “His dream was to be a pilot,” said Meno, a corporate lawyer. “He was diligent, hardworking, he had a consistent work ethic ... he was a rising star of Ethiopian Airlines.”

ARCHITECT TURNED PILOT

Sitting next to Yared in the cockpit on March 10 was Ahmednur Mohammed.

While the pair’s professionalism has been lauded, air safety experts fear they - and pilots in a similar crash in Indonesia in October - may not have been sufficiently versed in a new automated anti-stall system in the Boeing 737 MAX series.

The middle of three sons of a small business owner, friends from the sleepy eastern city of Dire Dawa remember Ahmednur as unusually driven to study when others would spend afternoons relaxing in the shade, chewing the narcotic leaf qat.

He spent five years at college studying his first love - architecture - where he earned the nickname 5-10 for his legendary 17-hour library stints, and received gentle ribbing for the neatness of his room.

Even as a student, Ahmednur’s skill earned him some small interior design commissions, friends said.

But the dutiful son feared he would not be able to make enough money as an architect to help his family, said his father Mohammed Omar, a white-haired 60-year-old in a carefully pressed worn suit.

So he switched to aviation school and completed two years of training. After school hours, he would visit a friend whose brother was a pilot and sit in the living room, running through cockpit checklists and motions on the couch, the friend said. He graduated with a commercial pilot’s license, the airline said.

“He would call me every three days. He would talk about his plans, he said that he was going to help his family,” his father told Reuters after Islamic prayers in Ahmednur’s memory at a relative’s house on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

Last Friday, mosques in both the capital and Dire Dawa held prayers for Ahmednur, the family said.

After a few months rest, he began working for Ethiopian Airlines, visiting other nations — Israel, South Africa, Burkina Faso — and earning his first salary.

He adored it, said his brother Menur Mohammed.

Ahmednur amassed 350 flying hours and had just started living alone for the first time when the family heard his plane had gone down.

“It took us long to believe he was dead,” his cousin Imran Mohammed, 30, told Reuters.

“He was so excited to live on his own.”

The family wants the airline or government to build a bridge or a school, something tangible to commemorate Ahmednur: pilot, architect, son. “We want to see something in his name, to remember him,” his father said softly. ( Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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