A Hamilton man who lost his wife of seven years, his three young children and his mother-in-law as a plane crashed in Ethiopia minutes after takeoff last month said his world has gone silent.
“Every time I think of the six minutes, that’s the most painful thing,” Paul Njoroge said while speaking with CTV News Toronto on Wednesday afternoon, one month after the tragedy.
“That’s the terror – what they went through in those six minutes – the fear. My wife knowing that she had all the three kids in that aircraft and my mother-in-law… what went through her mind, it’s the most painful thing.”
On March 10, an aircraft crashed after taking off in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Paul Njoroge’s 34-year-old wife Carolyne Karanja, their three kids and his 60-year-old mother-in-law Ann Karanja all died in the crash.
The couple’s nine-month-old daughter Rubi Njuguna was one of 18 Canadians killed in the crash that left all 157 passengers and crew members aboard dead. Her two older siblings, six-year-old Ryan Njuguna and four-year-old Kelly Njuguna, were also killed in the incident.
The entire family had been living in a Hamilton apartment leading up to the crash. While her family members were permanent residents of Canada, Rubi Njuguna was the only citizen as she was born in the country.
Paul Njoroge said his loved ones were on their way to visit Kenya at the time so Rubi Njuguna could meet her grandfather Quindos Karanja for the first time over Easter. The plan was for the children to stay with their grandparents in Kenya while their father settled in Hamilton with his wife as he had been working in Bermuda before. He was then to retrieve the kids from Kenya once he had found a full-time job and a place for them to all live together outside of Toronto.
One day after the deadly incident, Paul Njoroge travelled to Kenya with his parents and went to Ethiopia to see the crash site.
“They took us to Ethiopia so that we could see what really happened,” he said. “We were very hopeful when we were going because we thought we would come back home with our loved ones but when we got there we got to learn that because of the nature of the crash there were no bodies that were left intact.”
“We had to provide DNA so the DNA can identify our family members. They said that will take about six months so it’s a long wait for us.”
Carolyne Karanja, her three children and her mother flew from Toronto to Addis Ababa, which took 14 hours, before they got on their second flight that was supposed to bring them to Kenya.
“My wife kept telling me it’s only one and a half hours to Nairobi from Addis Ababa and they were almost home, they were almost home. They only had an hour and a half left but they only got six minutes,” Paul Njoroge said.
Paul Njoroge said seeing the crash site for the first time erased any imagination of it he had in his head prior.
“Initially you just leave trying to create that scene or that sight in your mind but getting to go there we got to see the nature of the crash, how intense it was and we no longer create the scene in our minds,” he said. “We no longer imagine, we just remember what we saw and it was really hard for everyone, it was really hard for me.”
Paul Njoroge and Carolyne Karanja met 14 years ago while both studying finance at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. She was 19 years old at the time and he was 20.
“We were close friends initially and then we started dating and we dated for about five years and we got married seven years after we met.”
While describing the three young kids the couple had together, Paul Njoroge held back tears.
“Ryan was a very energetic boy and he would always wanted to play football. He did really well in school and the teachers always commended him for being ahead of the other children,” he said.
“Kelly was still finding her way in life. She really enjoyed singing and dancing in the house. Rubi was very young. She brought happiness into our small family and we were so happy to have her.”
Paul Njoroge said now he is trying to figure out how to move forward while remembering his loved ones.
“Without hearing their calls, without hearing their laughter it’s something really hard to deal with. I’ve been trying my best to figure out the next steps in my life.”
A couple days after the crash, a neighbour of the family in Hamilton told CTV News Toronto that Carolyne Karanja was like a daughter to her.
“I miss those people. I miss them. We were very close, very close. (The children) were so friendly and playing together all the time,” Grace Mugambi said on March 12.
She added that their absence from the apartment building has made her feel alone.
Cause of deadly crash being investigated
The cause behind the plane going down minutes after taking off from Bole Airport in Addis Ababa is not yet known.
Last month, an airline official told The Associated Press that the “black box” from the aircraft had been recovered, though it was partially damaged.
An investigation into the deadly incident is underway.
The crash was similar to a Lion Air incident last year, where a jet plunged into the Java Sea and left 189 people dead.
Both crashes involved the Boeing 737 Max 8 and happened minutes after takeoff. In the wake of the Ethiopian plane crash, much of the world grounded the Boeing aircraft or banned it from their airspace.
Paul Njoroge said he wants to connect with other families who lost loved ones in these crashes to walk this tough path together.
“It’s really difficult,” he said. “The pain that I have it’s not pain that can be shared. Every time I sit down and think about my wife, my children, my mother-in-law it’s just too painful to bear for one person.”
“These are people that I can relate with, talking with them, getting to know what they are doing in order to make important steps in their lives and that’s why I want to see how I can reach out to them.”
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Tracy Tong