Americans killed in Ethiopian Airlines crash included Army captain from Illinois, California brother

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

By Travis Fedschun | Fox News

An Army captain from the Chicago area and two brothers on an adventure before one was set to become a father were among the Americans killed when an Ethiopian Airlinesjetliner plunged out of the sky on Sunday.

Antoine Lewis, 40, of Matteson, Ill., was a passenger on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 when the jetliner crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people onboard, according to Matteson Mayor Sheila Chalmers-Currin.

"I was devastated. Shocked and devastated," she told Fox 32. "He was a humanitarian, a faith-driven man."

Lewis was in Africa doing Christian missionary work at the time of the air disaster. The 40-year-old enlisted in the army as a third-generation family member before going on to serve in Afghanistan, WGN reported.


His father, Rodney Lewis, told WLS-TV he was stationed in Ottawa before leaving to go to Ethiopia.

"He was also stationed in South Korea, he was a military man, he loved it, he was moving up through the military," he said. "He went in as an enlisted man and he got his undergraduate degree and his graduate degree."

Lewis had planned to start a business or charity and build a home in Africa following his retirement from the military in a few years, according to family members. He leaves behind a wife and 15-year-old son.

Brothers Mel and Bennett Riffel were on one last adventure before Mel was expecting to become a father in May when they were killed in the crash.

The brothers from Redding, Calif. had been in Australia before visiting Africa, Redding Chamber of Commerce President Jake Mangas told the Record Searchlight. Mangas said he is close friends with the brothers' parents, Ike and Susan Riffel.

"Our family is devastated for Ike and Susan and certainly for Melvin's wife, Brittney," Mangas told the newspaper. "They are wonderful, faith-filled people and if there is any encouragement to me, it's in this difficult circumstance, I know they are surrounded by a community that loves them very much.

Parishioners at St. Joseph Church and School spent Monday placing flowers in the brothers' memory.  Both attended the church elementary school and their mother is the parish secretary, according to KRCR-TV.


"The community, we've been through a lot of things this past year, this year," Father Fred Gucor told the television station. "Very supportive community, just this morning after the Mass, people are offering prayer, offering them help, anything, anything."

In a statement to KRCR, a spokesperson for Ike and Susan Riffel said they were appreciating the outpouring so far.

"We appreciate the outpouring of love and support from the community. We ask for continued prayers," the spokesperson said.

'Great writer and an avid surfer'

A man originally from New Jersey who worked for a company that develops air quality products was also among the dead.

Matt Vecere grew up in Sea Isle City and studied ocean engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology. He later moved back to New Jersey when he transferred to Stockton University, Fox 29 reported.

In 2005, Vecere moved to California, where he was living at the time of the crash while working for IQ Air, a Swiss-based company that develops air quality products. In a statement posted to Twitter, the company said it was "greatly saddened by the loss of our friend and colleague."

"Matt was a great writer and an avid surfer with a passion for helping others," the company said. "Our hearts are with Matt's family and all who lost their lives in this tragedy."

Mucaad Hussein of St. Cloud, Minnesota was on his way to visit relatives in Kenya when he ended up on the doomed flight.

Friends told Fox 9 that Hussein was in his early 30s and had come to Minnesota in the 12th grade from Ethiopia. He later became a U.S. citizen, graduated from Apollo High School in St. Cloud and then studied at both St. Cloud Technical College and St. Cloud State.

“We used to play soccer together—very much involved in the youth soccer,” longtime friend Haji Yussuf told Fox 9. “He was involved in a lot of different teams here in St. Cloud—youth programs. He was very visible in the community—very social, very outgoing—always smiling—always had a smile on his face.”

Hussein an activist who was involved with local politics, loved to play soccer, Fox 9 reported.

Aviation experts from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived at the crash site Tuesday outside the capital, Addis Ababa, with representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board to join the Ethiopian-led investigation.

The FAA said it expects Boeing will soon complete improvements to an automated anti-stall system suspected of contributing to the deadly crash of another new Boeing 737 Max 8 in October, and update training requirements and related flight crew manuals.

Boeing has said it has no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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