When he missed connecting – by three minutes – with an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed shortly after takeoff March 10, Greek businessman Antonis Mavropoulos protested to no avail as he saw the last passengers boarding through the gate.
When he found it had gone down, and he wasn’t allowed to board another three hours later because he was the only passenger not allowed to get on the ill-fated flight, he said he was shaken but glad as 157 lives were lost.
“I saw the last passengers going through, but the gate had already closed. I complained, in the usual way when that kind of thing happens. But they were very kind and placed me on another flight,” Antonis Mavropoulos told Greece’s private Skai Television, speaking via Skype from Nairobi.
“I haven’t slept all night…A friend told me ‘a second life was gifted to you’…the flip side is I lost people I knew and it shakes you to know that a split second decided their lives, that they were lost for nothing,” Mavropoulos told Skai TV Monday.
“I’m slowly coming to terms with what happened and how close it came. On the other hand, I’m also very upset — I’m shattered — for those who were lost,” he said in the interview Monday. “To be honest, I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I didn’t check my suitcase, because I knew the gap between connecting flights was tight. If I had checked the bag in, they would have waited for me,” he said. “This is a very difficult moment — one that can change your life.”
Mavropoulos was making a connection at Addis Ababa on his way to a United Nations conference in Nairobi, Kenya. He is the founder of waste management company D-Waste and, since September 2016, President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), based in Vienna.
Mavropoulos said that he had only half an hour between the flights and fortunate he had only a carry-on bag or that the flight would have been required to wait if he had a bag in the hold, waiving the rule the gate would close 15 minutes before departure.
As he was flying Business Class, a connection ambassador was supposed to be waiting for him when his connecting flight landed but wasn’t there so he made his way on his own, too late for the flight, another in a series of events saving his life.
“The flight was departing at 8:15 a.m. I arrived at the gate at 8:03 and it was closed,” he says. I was watching the last passengers entering and I could do nothing. I protested, as one does in such cases. In any case, the people issued me a new ticket to depart with the next flight, three hours later. They apologized. They were very polite,” he said.
“When, three hours later, I tried to board they told me ‘You can’t board because you are the only one who did not board the missing flight.’ We didn’t know anything then, but I felt my feet give way under me because I understood.”
Had he checked his luggage and missed the flight, Mavropoulos would have been treated as a suspect. The plane’s black box was found, Ethiopia’s state television reported, and will be examined for clues as to what happened.
The crash was the second of a new Boeing Max 8 in the last few months, leading China and Ethiopia to ground their entire fleets of them and setting off alarm bells in the aviation world about whether a new system designed to pull down the nose if a computer showed a stall likely might be to blame.
In a post on Facebook, Mavropoulos said he only became aware of the crash while preparing to check in for a later flight when he was again was stopped by airport staff.
“A (staff member) politely told me not to protest and say I should thank God, because I was the only passenger who did not board Flight 302, which was still missing. … At first I thought he was lying, but his manner left no room for doubt,” he wrote.
“I felt the ground disappear under my feet. … I have written this to manage the shock that I’m feeling.”