Everything seemed to proceed according to plan for two teachers from Asia-Pacific International University (APIU) in Saraburi, Thailand to travel to Kenya. But then Pradeep Tudu, vice president for finance and development, and Youssry Guirguis, a lecturer in the Faculty of Religious Studies, received a notification from Ethiopian Airlines about their upcoming flight to Nairobi. They would ultimately be part of a story reported around the world.
An Inconvenient Delay
On March 9, 2019, a day before their trip, Tudu received a message about their scheduled flight, which said: “Dear Customer, Your Ethiopian Flight ET0629, from Bangkok, Thailand to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 10, 2019, at 01:15 am has been changed. The flight will now depart at 03:45 am on March 10, 2019.”
Their planned route was a stop at Addis Ababa, where they would board Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 to Nairobi. The last-minute flight rescheduling would cause them to miss their flight to Nairobi.
After seeing the message from the airline, the two felt frustrated and started making calls to inquire what could be done for them to avoid missing their second flight.
“We tried to call the airline office, but we were not able to make any contact. We did not know if there was another flight, and we did not want to be stranded in Addis Ababa,” Tudu said.
When the two men arrived at the Bangkok airport, they looked for the office of Ethiopian Airlines but were unsuccessful. They called the main office in Bangkok, and the answering machine said, “Sorry, our office is closed as it is after working hours.”
Guirguis recounted their efforts to get an early flight to Addis Ababa.
“The answering machine gave us a few numbers that work 24 hours a day. Each time we tried to call a number, it lacked a digit. We were unable to get through. We wondered why the numbers were not working. All of these attempts were to make sure that we would not miss the Ethiopian flight ET302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi,” Guirguis said.
Flying in Circles
The two boarded their flight from Bangkok to Addis Ababa as scheduled. At about 9:00 a.m. the next day, while nearing their destination, they noticed that their plane had been flying in circles over Ethiopia for about an hour. “We thought that the pilot was touring us over the country,” Guirguis said.
Then they heard the pilot announce: “Sorry for the delay in landing; we were asked to look for a missing flight. In six minutes, we will land.”
Tudu and Guirguis arrived safely in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 10:30 a.m., March 10, 2019. They were still disappointed about the flight delay but were given a connecting flight to Nairobi scheduled for 1:00 p.m.
As Tudu and Guirguis boarded their plane for the 1:00 p.m. flight, their attention was caught by a commotion among passengers inside their aircraft. Out of curiosity, they inquired what the commotion was all about and were told that Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302, which they were supposed to have taken, had crashed six minutes after take-off earlier that day.
“The fact that the plane crashed shortly after leaving Ethiopia’s capital, killing all 157 people on board, left my colleague and me in a state of shock,” Guirguis said.
Comforting the Suffering
“For a moment we were in the midst of grief and the experience of a great miracle at the same time. Instead of wasting time to grasp reality, we read the Bible and prayed many times. We also tried to comfort the crew members, who were weeping for the loss of eight of their fellow crew members,” Guirguis added.
Upon hearing the news of the crash, 25 passengers on their flight decided to disembark and discontinue their flight to Kenya. As a result, the plane was delayed for two hours. It took five hours from the time the two men landed in Ethiopia to the time they arrived in Kenya.
During those excruciating hours, their families, friends, and co-workers from Thailand and the Adventist University of Africa (AUA) in Kenya, who had heard about the ET302 crash, were distraught and anxious to hear of any news about them.
After completing their tasks in Kenya, Tudu and Guirguis flew back to Thailand.