Close to 100 friends and family members gathered Sunday for a memorial service for Jessica Hyba, killed last March in an Ethiopian Airlines crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8.
When Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa last March 10, it extinguished the lives of 157 people from more than 30 countries. One of the passengers was Jessica Hyba, a native of Ottawa and professional humanitarian.That she was just 43 was a body blow to her extended family and tight, tight circle of friends, who gathered Sunday at the Cedarhill golf club for a celebration of her life. But Hyba’s untimely death is notable for what she represents and what, therefore, has been lost.Like so many others on that flight from Ethiopia, Hyba really was trying to help the dispossessed. Through a succession of jobs at Care Canada, Care International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Hyba provided food, water, medicine and other assistance to refugees afflicted by natural and other disasters. For the better part of two decades, she took on tough, sometime dangerous assignments in Chad, Iraq, Indonesia and, shortly before her death, Somalia. Hyba was, in a word, selfless — in sharp contrast with the ethic of greed that has taken root in so many national governments in the time of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Facebook photo of Jessica Hyba.
But Hyba understood the risks, too. She and her first husband, Arnaud Blazy, were both in the business of providing international aid. When the couple divorced some years ago, they came to an arrangement to ensure the safety of their two children, Ayla and Othéa. From the moment of their divorce, they resolved that just one of them would work in dangerous territory. The other parent would help the refugee effort from the relative safety of administrative offices and look after the children.For Hyba, that safe spot for most of the past five years was Geneva, the global headquarters for UNHCR. Earlier this year, with the children secure in the hands of Blazy in Europe, Hyba starting preparing for her new job as senior external relations officer with UNHCR in Mogadishu, Somalia.“She was desperate to go to Somalia,” said Jennifer Ghikas, a Geneva-based colleague. Part of it was to be with her new partner, Oliver Vick, who was also killed in the March 10 crash. But Hyba was also anxious to return to the field.This is what makes her death so heart-rending. Front line humanitarian workers usually assume the biggest risks lie with kidnapping, war or disease.Instead, Hyba would die because the globe’s largest manufacturer of airliners, Boeing, failed to deal with a flaw in the anti-stall software required on the firm’s most profitable aircraft, the Boeing 737 MAX 8. That Boeing did not apply a software fix immediately following the crash under similar circumstances of a 737 MAX 8 last October in Indonesia is all the more egregious.“It is, and always will be unbelievable that someone like (Jessica) would leave life so violently,” Blazy observed at Sunday’s service. Nearly 100 people attended, including many within the group that attended Confederation High School in Barrhaven. Hyba left Ottawa for Banff shortly after graduating high school but was soon joined by half a dozen of her friends. Much of the clique hung out in the Alberta town for the next seven years, working in retail shops or restaurants and indulging their enthusiasm for hiking, skiing and snowboarding.Hyba’s wanderlust took her to Australia, then England for university degrees — respectively, a BA in international relations and a master’s degree in public policy. “Jessica was a citizen of the world,” noted Rev. Jim Sitler. The transformative event in her life was a successful personal interview with Care Canada — an international aid agency based in Ottawa. Hyba’s first overseas assignment took her to Chad where she met a fellow humanitarian and her future husband, Blazy.“Jessica had incredible energy,” said Jessica Mackie, one of her high-school friends. “She actually felt compelled to make the world a better place.”Despite, or perhaps because of, the great physical distances, Hyba appears to have remained unusually close with her friends in Canada and elsewhere, through FaceTime and social media. It also says much that despite a rather complicated family, relations between its members do not appear strained.Jessica is survived by her mother, Karol Kovacs (née Kalbfleisch), her stepfather, Allan Kovacs, and her brother Gregory. She is also survived by her father, Norbert Hyba, and Elizabeth Drew, Melanie and Naomi, as well as Susan Storey. Jessica’s children Ayla and Othéa are with their father, Blazy.ALSO IN THE NEWSAfter Linton: What’s next for Canopy Growth and Smiths Falls?After fish die in river, Quebec tells Environment Canada: Go fish for dataSuspects arrested after Quebec man killed protecting daughter in Sint Maarten