As the midday sun burned, Gloria Wangari held on to her father Peter Kimani as they sat patiently waiting for her mother, whom she had not seen for one year.
The two sat on a giant concrete slab in the open outside terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), the arrivals’ terminal for Ethiopian Airlines. Behind them sat a bright bouquet of flowers, abandoned to wilt and burn as if it did not have an owner.
Yesterday was supposed to be a special day for Gloria and her father. It had started out with excitement, then panic, worry and hope, until finally, the little hint of hope they had gave way to crippling uncertainty and anxiety.
It is a day the 11-year-old Standard Four pupil and her father had waited for anxiously for the past year-and-a-half, and even more intensely over the past week.
After nearly a year and a half away in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Florence Wangari was coming back home.
Gloria was smartly dressed to receive her mother, spotting black ankle boots, blue jeans and a pristine white, long–sleeved blouse, her long straightened hair dangling neatly in three ponytails
On Saturday night, Gloria and Kimani had made the nearly seven hours drive from Kisumu to Nairobi where they were joined by relatives who had travelled from Nakuru, to pick Wangari.
The family arrived at JKIA early on Sunday morning, still dressed in the warm clothes they had worn during the journey from Kisumu. But the flight did not arrive at 10.15am as scheduled. A flight cancellation notice had already been issued via a screen at the terminal.
The family made endless inquiries from the Ethiopian Airlines staff, but a response that could put their now forming and growing worry to rest was not forthcoming.
The flight would arrive later than scheduled, they thought, and therefore, opted to wait.
Several minutes later, while still inside the airport, Gloria saw news of the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight on television.
“I didn’t even know there was a plane crash. It was my daughter who saw the news and informed me,” Kimani told The Standard.
The news jolted Kimani but he still clung onto hope, choosing to believe that his wife and mother of his daughter was alive.
Even though Kimani was now aware that ET 302 had crashed, no fatalities had been confirmed, he opted to believe that his wife had survived.
A few hours later, after it was confirmed that all 157 on board had died, Kimani still clung onto his optimism that his wife was alive and well.
“She told us she would arrive at 10am on Sunday morning but didn’t tell us the flight number so we are assuming she is on the next flight out of Addis Ababa,” a worried Kimani told The Standard.
The next Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa, ET 304, had been scheduled to arrive at 1.30pm but had been cancelled until further notice. Perhaps, Kimani thought, Wangari was on it, and not on the crashed ET 302.
The family decided to split into two groups. Some went to Four Points by Sheraton Hotel within the airport where Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said family members of those on the crashed flight would be updated and counselled.
Kimani, with Gloria by his side, stayed at the terminal, waiting for ET 304, which would arrive, albeit later than scheduled.
When ET 304 landed at 4pm, an optimistic Kimani, together with Gloria, were waiting at Terminal 1A.
One by one, the passengers streamed in and Kimani was there, standing by, looking out, hoping, and praying that his wife and the mother to his 11-year-old daughter was among them.
But she was not
A crushed Kimani spoke to The Standard again half an hour after ET 304 landed, saying, “The way is clear now. All passengers who landed have passed through. Wangari was not among them. I think now we just have to accept that she was on the other flight”.
Kimani had not talked to Wangari in nearly a week.
I had travelled to Moyale and the network was poor. I was mostly communicating with her through her sister, who informed me that Wangari was travelling from DRC to Nairobi via Addis Ababa.”
“She has been away for nearly six years working as a missionary but she returns from time time. However, it has been almost a year-and-a-half since her last visit,” he said.
By yesterday evening, Kimani, Gloria and their extended family were still unaware of Wangari’s fate, but he told The Standard, “We choose to hope that she is still alive, until we obtain sure confirmation”.
At the airport, Kimani said airport and Government officials were taking them in circles, hesitant to give them information about their kin.
Still, Kimani insisted that he would only conclude Wangari had died after confirmation. In the meantime, he said, he would do the only thing he can — wait, hope and pray. Later in the evening, the bad news was broken for Kimani and his family — Wangari was in the ill-fated aircraft.
Charles Gitari, on the other hand, was at the airport to pick two Chinese nationals whom he declined to identify.
He said they were employees of Southern China-based company with assets in Kenya. One, he said, was a woman in her 20s, and another a man in his early 30s.