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Michael Ryan. WFP/Facebook
Michael Ryan

'He wanted to save the world': Mother leads tributes to Irish aid worker who died in air crash

He was killed in an Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.

THE MOTHER OF an Irish aid worker who died in an air crash over the weekend has paid tribute to her son, saying he was an “amazing” person who lived to help others.

Christine Ryan paid tribute to her son Michael on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Michael Ryan was Deputy Chief Engineer at the United Nations’ World Food Programme. Originally from Clare, he lived in Cork but had recently relocated to the programme’s Rome headquarters.

He was killed in an Ethiopian Airlines crash over the weekend.

Christine – a retired teacher – said that the family was in shock at Michael’s death. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. 

“He was an amazing person we just can’t believe… we still can’t come to terms with this,” she said.

His wife Naoise and his children, everybody’s just devastated, nobody can believe that this has happened it’s very difficult to come to terms with it.

Christine described Michael as a man who had a “marvellous vision” for the world and always worked hard to achieve that.

“He was a very enthusiastic person, he had a great vision, he had ferocious work, he believed in engineering, putting people first and he was involved in an awful lot of different projects worldwide,” she said. 

These projects ranged from flood reliefs and landslides to helping combat the spread of Ebola and assisting Rohingya Muslims. Michael’s work took him to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan among many other countries.

“He had a marvellous vision and he just got there and did it and he had great enthusiasm with regards to work,” Christine said. 

It’s just unreal. We’re finding it very difficult to come to grips with it really.  

She said her son wanted to save the world and an amazing vision. 

“He wanted to really basically to save the world as far as he was concerned and he had a vision for that and he just seemed to put all his energies in and do that,” she said.


Christine said that Michael’s family appreciated what he was doing and supported him, and whenever he was home it was “all hands on deck”.

“[He] brought his children off surfing or golfing in Lahinch or whatever. He just loved west Clare as well and he loved Lahinch and he loved life and living,” she said.

He had such enthusiasm for anything he really set his mind to whether it was work or family he was a continually enthusiastic person.  

Christine said that she had heard of the air crash in the news, but didn’t realise that her son was onboard until she was contacted by his wife, Naoise. 

“I knew he was going on a flight to Nairobi but I didn’t really realise he was on the flight that crashed until Naoise his wife contacted me and told me that he was definitely on that flight,” she said. 

“And I had heard that the flight had gone down but I didn’t realise he was on it until Naoise contacted me.

I was hoping that he wasn’t on that flight that he might have been on a different one.

The family were all due to travel to Rome next week to celebrate Michael’s 40th birthday on 28 March and for the christening of his young son.


The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed yesterday morning en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi in Kenya with 149 passengers and eight crew believed to be onboard.

The plane crashed soon after take off, outside the Ethiopian capital.

Johnny Hegarty – of the Save Cork City campaign group – was a friend of Michael’s and spoke on Cork’s 96fm Opinion Line with PJ Coogan this morning.

“Mick was doing good around the world which was great. That’s what drove him really, I think in his life – to do good,” he said.

“He really thought about people as being the benefactors of everything that was done. And I suppose that’s what makes it very tragic because he was often at risk in his work for the UN.

He saved countless lives, hundreds, maybe thousands and thousands of lives in his work.

Hegarty said that Michael used engineering to help people all across the world. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Ryan last night. 

“Our thoughts tonight are with families of all those lost in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, including Irish engineer Michael Ryan,” Varadkar said in a tweet.

Michael was doing life-changing work in Africa with the World Food Programme. Deepest sympathies to family, colleagues & friends.

President Michael D Higgins also expressed his sadness and sympathies over the lives lost in the crash.

“In particular I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of Michael Ryan, whose work in humanitarian assistance for the World Food Programme brought him onto the flight,” Higgins said. 

On my own behalf and behalf of the Irish people, I send my deepest sympathies to President Sahle-Work Zewde, to the families of the victims and to the people of Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian community who live here in Ireland.

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