2 NorCal Brothers Traveling Before 1 Became a Dad Among 157 Killed in Ethiopian Jet Crash

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Two California brothers on a world adventure before one of them became a dad this spring were among those killed in an Ethiopian Airlines jet crash, friends and relatives said.

Melvin and Bennett Riffel, of Redding, were on vacation and had been in Australia and Somalia before traveling to Ethiopia, family and friends said.

Melvin and Bennett Riffel are seen in family photos. (Credit: KRCR via CNN)
Melvin and Bennett Riffel are seen in family photos. (Credit: KRCR via CNN)

Melvin’s wife, Brittney, also was vacationing with the brothers, but she had returned to California after they all visited Australia, family friend Jake Mangas, a friend of the brothers’ parents, Ike and Susan Riffel, told the Record Searchlight in a story published Tuesday.

The brothers were among 157 people killed Sunday when an Ethiopian Airlines plane en route to Nairobi, Kenya, crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By Tuesday, much of the world, including the entire European Union, had grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 involved in the crash or banned it from their airspace.

“Our family is devastated for Ike and Susan and certainly for Melvin’s wife, Brittney,” Mangas said. “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.”

Cousin Joel Grogan said in a GoFundMe page asking for support for Melvin’s wife that they were expecting their first child this May. “Mel and Bennett were my cousins and they will be missed deeply forever,” Grogan wrote.

Flowers and candles in honor of the brothers were placed at the bell tower outside St. Joseph Church and School, where they attended elementary school and their mother works as a secretary.

The brothers, the Riffels’ only children, grew up in Redding and graduated from Shasta High School, friends said.

Karen Lawrence, whose son was one of Melvin’s best friends, said Melvin had a passion for snowboarding, motocross and other adrenaline-inducing activities.

His brother Bennett, 26, officiated his wedding to Brittney in 2017, she said. “He married them, and it was an adorable service. Their wedding was one of a kind,” Lawrence said.

Melvin, 29, worked at the California Department of Transportation’s District 2 office in Redding, spokesman Chris Woodward said.

Melvin’s friend Jordan Webb said the brothers had polar-opposite personalities but in recent years had become close.

“They became as close as any two brothers possibly could,” Webb told the newspaper. “They loved each other fiercely. I’m relieved to know that they had each other to lean on in their last minutes.”

San Francisco-based Tech Soup said one of their employees in Africa was also killed in the plane crash.

Anne Musyoki, TechSoup Global’s Regional Lead for Africa, was returning home in Nairobi, the company, which provides technology support for nonprofit groups around the world, said in a statement.

“Our hearts go out to her husband and children, and to the TechSoup family, who must learn to deal with the loss of a valued and committed contributor under such tragic circumstances,” Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Masisak said.

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