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SA-German citizen Max Thabiso Edkins dies in flight ET302 Ethiopian crash

SA-German citizen Max Thabiso Edkins dies in flight ET302 Ethiopian crash
Max Thabiso Edkins. (Supplied)

Lesotho native and German-South African citizen, Max Thabiso Edkins, died in Sunday’s fatal airplane crash in Ethiopia. On Tuesday, his grieving father, South African documentary filmmaker Don Edkins, spoke to Daily Maverick from Cape Town about his son’s passion for spreading climate change awareness to youth around the world.

On Sunday March 10, 157 people lost their lives aboard Ethiopian Airline flight ET302. Just 13 minutes after takeoff, the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi experienced a currently-unknown critical failure and plummeted to the ground. There were no survivors.

Initial communications from the airline indicated that no South Africans were involved in the crash, but it is now known that Max Thabiso Edkins, a German-South African citizen originally from Lesotho, was on board the ill-fated flight. An employee of the World Bank serving as a Communications Officer for Connect4Climate (C4C), 35-year-old Max was on his way to Nairobi to attend a climate summit by the UN Environment Assembly and One Planet when flight ET302 lost altitude.

Max Edkins, who was more recently primarily based in Sweden, is survived by his wife and son, his brother and two parents. His father, Don Edkins, is a leading South African-born documentary film producer who was forced to flee to Lesotho for political reasons during apartheid but returned to vote in 1994 after spending five years in Germany with Max and the rest of his family.

In an interview with Daily Maverick on Tuesday morning, an emotional Edkins described his son as being curious from a young age.

He just had so much going for him. He had such a strong, bright future. And I know that people will use him as an example of what can be done with such good will and such positive energy,” said Edkins, who will soon fly to Sweden, Germany and then Lesotho to visit family members who were close to his son.

Edkins said the family had not yet been contacted by Ethiopian Airlines, despite the airline claiming to have contacted the relatives of those involved in the crash on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, the day of the crash, Edkins received a call from Max’s mother-in-law. The family tried to find out information about Max’s whereabouts, but when Edkins contacted the airline he was told they could not confirm anything. By late afternoon the German embassy in Addis Ababa confirmed that Max Thabiso Edkins’ name was on the passenger manifest of flight ET302. He had flown on his German passport.

According to his father, Max grew up in Lesotho and spent his time in rural areas playing outside. His family believes that his passion for the environment started in the bushes of his childhood home, and continued to grow despite moving to Germany as tensions in Lesotho rose in the late 1980s. The Edkins came to Cape Town in the 1990s, where Max attended the German International School. He later went to the University of Cape Town (UCT) to study Environmental Sciences. He excelled at university and was offered a scholarship to study at Oxford after completing his degree, according to his father.

In recent years, Max had become well-known within the international climate change community, according to a statement released by The World Bank on Tuesday.

Max was deeply committed to the fight against climate change and brought tremendous creativity, energy and passion to his work,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Interim President of the World Bank Group.

As a Communications Officer for C4C, described as “a multi-partner communications platform that advocates for climate action” by the World Bank, Max was passionate about teaching young people to respect and love their environments.

According to Edkins, his son helped facilitate Greta Thunberg’s presence at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP24. Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate change activist from Sweden, has encouraged school children around the world to protest against climate change. On 15 March learners from 20 South African schools, as well as students and staff from the UCT and the University of Stellenbosch, will protest outside of Parliament to highlight the impact of global warming.

Recent news updates about the crash from CNN and other agencies indicate that the captain, 29-year-old Yared Getachew, had logged over 8,000 hours of flight time. In a press conference on Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said that Getachew reported technical difficulties after takeoff and had been given permission to return to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.

GebreMariam visited the crash site on Sunday and said it was not possible to determine if the plane crashed or if the pilot initiated a forced emergency landing. DM

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