Tragedy cut short beautiful love story. Denis Adhoch is grief-stricken after losing his wife, Immaculate Achieng Odero (Lettie) in the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines crash.
Immaculate was among the over 30 Kenyans who lost their lives on March 10, after their plane crashed a few minutes after leaving Addis Ababa.
Their family house in one of the sprouting estates in Nairobi has seen many visitors.
A nearly full Condolence’s Book, and a beautiful picture of Immaculate is what ushers in visitors.
The house is quiet, that kind of quietness that does not silence grief.
Denis has cried every day and still wishes it was a dream.
“She called me on March 9 at around 7pm to inform me that she would be travelling from Khartoum, Sudan, the following morning at 3am to Nairobi via Ethiopia. That was just a few hours before the crash.
“She had promised to make another call, one last one, as she boarded her plane the next morning, but she never did. Instead, she sent a WhatsApp message informing me that she had overslept, and had to rush to the airport,” says Denis.
That was the last communication they would ever have.
“It breaks my heart talking about our plans now. I wasn’t home for over two months, I left Nairobi on January 14 for work in Takaba, Northern Kenya. I was scheduled to come back home on March 11. I was excited, we were both excited,” he says, his eyes blurred with tears.
He goes on after a brief silence: “Our wedding anniversary was to be on March 5, her birthday would follow on March 15. I couldn’t wait to come back home to her. We often spoke on phone, and she sent beautiful texts, detailing how she was going to be away for 11 days in Sudan and would come back on March 10 connecting through Addis Ababa.”
“I couldn’t wait to be with her again. I had promised to take her out for her birthday once she returned, and get to spend time with our two-year-old daughter, Amari. She agreed, but insisted on paying for it,” says Denis who met Immaculate at The University of Nairobi in 2008.
She wanted to treat everyone on her birthday, she had bought gifts for everyone, her sisters, brothers, brother-in-law.
The two were classmates at The College of Education and External Studies, and were training as teachers.
“It all started in 2008 at the University of Nairobi where we were both pursuing Education. I remember trooping into our departmental offices to get my timetable when I met her in the company of three other ladies – all first years,” he says with a tinge of nostalgia.
Their friendship took root that very day, and would be cemented a just a few days later after Denis received news from home that his sister was no more.
“As a friend, she gave me a shoulder to cry on, despite the fact that we were only beginning to know one another. She stood with me,” says Denis who also lost his father in December 2003 and mother in January 2007.
“We formally got married on March 5, 2016 in a beautiful traditional wedding attended by family and friends and were blessed with a daughter in December 2017. We shared 11 years of happiness. She was a good friend, a good wife and the beautiful mother of our daughter,” says Denis.
At the time of the tragedy, Denis who was undertaking emergency response work in Takaba, Mandera West, received a text message from his friend Ruto at around 11am. He was in the middle of conducting a training.
The text read: “I hope you are safe brother, najua wewe hufly to Ethiopia” (I wanted to know if you are safe, because you always travel to Ethiopia).
“I stepped out and called Ruto. He told me there was this plane crash. I told him I was safe but remembered my wife was connecting from Ethiopia, so I asked him to find out the flight number, which he did. I called my sister-in-law, Lettie’s sister, they had already heard about it from their internal security communications and were already following up with her work place in a bid to confirm her itinerary,” says Denis.
Adding: “She got in touch with her work place who told her that she was scheduled to travel on that day but that they were still confirming the actual flight number. I think they knew but did not know how to relay the news.”
It was not until around 12pm that he received news that Immaculate was supposed to be on the fateful flight. That, to Denis, could mean the worst.
“Some part of me wished she had missed the fateful flight, or if she was on it, then she was one of the survivors. I didn’t have the strength to go to social media and check. I started shaking and crying, I couldn’t go back to the training.”
It was not until 5pm that same day that he received news that would shutter his life, news that would end a beautiful journey that started at the University of Nairobi.
“My brother-in-law called me from the JKIA, where an information desk for families had been set up. He told me Immaculate was on the flight, but could not confirm if indeed there were any survivors. At that moment, with the help of my employer, I was booked onto a flight headed for Nairobi from Wajir for the following morning.”
There was no flight from Takaba and so Denis’s employer organised for him to be moved from Takaba to Wajir to enable him catch the flight the following morning.
It was while still on the road to Wajir at around 6:30pm that he received news that there were no survivors, and that Immaculate was among the dead.
“I broke down. I had lost everything. I cried the whole evening and on the plane the next day, all the way to Nairobi. It was a pain so deep, pain I had never felt in my life. I kept asking why did it happened to us, why me? Why her? Why did I have to go through so much pain?”
On March 15, a day that was to be his wife’s birthday, Denis boarded a plane to Ethiopia accompanied by his brother-in-law.
“There were no survivors, only 5,000 body fragments collected from the crash site. They took us to the crash scene on March 16, everything was shredded to pieces, there was nothing left of the plane, it was so emotional for me, I tried to imagine how much pain she went through, if she cried for help,” says Denis.
“They allowed us to carry soil from the site. Then they told us to go home and wait for five to six months for DNA identification. It’s tragic. That families will have to wait for six months to find their kin is even more punishing.”
Denis travelled back to Kenya on March 19.
“I will not be burying anything if it is not her. I will wait until September to bury my wife,” he says, adding: “the soil I dug from the crush site has found a home in our house, and will help me to tell our story, to pursue our shared dreams and to ensure her light continues to shine and her legacy lives on.
“My heart goes out to other families that have lost their loved ones in this tragedy. I wish I could turn back the hands of time,” says Denis.