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Ethiopians hold mass funeral ceremony for plane crash victims

Students from Hama elementary school, who walked an hour and a half from their school in the surrounding area to pay their respects, stand next to floral tributes at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff last Sunday. Picture by Mulugeta Ayene, Associated Press
Associated Press Reporters

Thousands of Ethiopians have attended a mass funeral ceremony in the country's capital, a week after a plane crash killed 157 people.

Some victims' relatives fainted and fell to the ground during the procession through Addis Ababa on Sunday. Seventeen empty caskets were laid to rest in remembrance of the victims from Ethiopia.

The victims came from 35 countries. Officials have begun delivering bags of earth to family members instead of the remains because the identification process is going to take such a long time.

Many families have held religious ceremonies and relatives have gathered at the rural, dusty crash site outside Ethiopia's capital.

Earlier, it emerged families are being given a 1kg sack of scorched earth taken from the crash sites.

"The soil came as it became impossible to identify bodies and hand over remains to family members," a family member said.

"We will not rest until we are given the real body or body parts of our loved ones."

Forensic DNA work has begun on identifying the remains but it may take six months to identify the victims.

However, authorities say they will issue death certificates within two weeks.

Interpol and Blake Emergency Services, hired by Ethiopian Airlines, will work with Ethiopian police and health officials to identify the bodies, Dagmawit Moges, Ethiopia's minister of transport said on Saturday.

"Preparation for the identification process has already started and we will make sure that the postmortem investigation will start as soon as possible," she said.

The US National Transportation Safety Board has sent about 16 members to assist the investigation, she said.

In Paris, investigators started studying the cockpit voice recorder of the crashed Ethiopian Airlines jet on Saturday.

The French air accident investigation agency BEA tweeted on Saturday that technical work on the recorder began.

The BEA also said work resumed on the flight's data recorders.

The recorders, also known as black boxes, were sent to France because the BEA has extensive expertise in analysing such devices.

Experts from the US National Transportation Safety Board and the plane's manufacturer Boeing are among those involved in the investigation.

The Ethiopian disaster and a crash last year in Indonesia were both of the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes.

The United States and many other countries have grounded the Max 8s.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said regulators had new data from satellite-based tracking that showed the movements of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were similar to those of Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.

Boeing said it supports the grounding of its planes as a precautionary step, while reiterating "full confidence" in their safety.

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