BRAMPTON, Ontario — It was supposed to be a dream family vacation.
An immigrant grandfather eager to set foot on African soil after an absence of 30 years.
A doting mother determined to show her Canadian daughters where she came from.
Two teenage girls giddy at the prospect of seeing animals on safari in Kenya.
Instead, three generations of a Canadian-Indian family perished when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed Sunday, killing all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians.
“I am not angry, but I am devastated; I have lost everyone,” said Manant Vaidya, 41, whose parents, sister, brother-in-law and two teenage nieces all died in the crash, which had victims from 25 countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, China and the United States.
In Brampton, Ontario, a multicultural suburban city outside Toronto where Punjabi is the second-most spoken language after English, the tight-knit South Asian community is in shock at the deaths of Vaidya’s mother, Hansini Vaidya, 67; father, Pannagesh Vaidya, 73; sister Kosha Vaidya, 37; brother-in-law Prerit Dixit, 45; and two teenage nieces Ashka Dixit, 14, and Anushka Dixit, 13.
They are mourning, Vaidya said, for a family that embodied the “Canadian dream.”
Within hours of the crash, the mayor ordered that flags at city hall be lowered to half-staff to honor the family. Flags were also lowered at the girls’ schools.
On Tuesday, a steady stream of neighbors and relatives dropped by the handsome house in Brampton where Vaidya and his family had lived with his parents, offering condolences and care packages of food.
On Monday, Sushma Swaraj, the Indian foreign minister, called to express her condolences.
The family, meanwhile, was discussing how to find hair samples or dental records of their dead relatives for DNA testing. They said they despaired at the possibility of not being to able to identify the bodies so that the family could be cremated in their native Gujarat in accordance with Hindu ritual.
“I last saw them on Saturday morning when I dropped them off at the airport,” Vaidya said.
A friend from Nairobi called the next day to tell him the news.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Vaidya said, adding that the family had feared breaking the news to his mother’s 90-year-old mother, back in India.
Vaidya said his family were typical first-generation Indian immigrants, with five groups of relatives living within five minutes of one another in Brampton, presided over by his parents.
They were surrogate parents, mentors and therapists to the entire clan, he said, many of whose immediate family was in India.
Pannagesh Vaidya, a gentle, soft-spoken man with a ready smile, had been chief executive of an engineering consulting business, his son said, and enjoyed tutoring his grandchildren in math, doing equations in his head.
At weekly family get-togethers, overflowing with naan bread and dal, along with pizza, Ashka would sing, and Anushka would do classical Indian dances. Anushka aspired to be a robotics engineer.
“The two girls were born here and were Canadian girls,” Vaidya said. “The whole family believed Canada was a land of opportunity.”
Vaidya said his sister immigrated to Ontario in 2003, to join her husband, who had arrived from India in the 1990s, in search of a better life. About nine years later, her parents joined them from India.
The Canadian cold had initially been a culture shock to his father, he said. “But my father said better to stay indoors and be close to family.”
Hiral Vaidya, Vaidya’s wife, recalled that her mother-in-law was deeply religious. Every morning she woke up to do puja, a Hindu ritual in which she paid homage to Indian deities, including the powerful Shiva.
Before the Ethiopian Air flight, she said, Hansini Vaidya woke at 3 a.m. and spent two hours praying for a safe journey. “She wouldn’t eat or do anything until she had prayed,” she said.
Dixit thought a lot about plane safety, Manant Vaidya said, and, before the flight had assiduously studied the safety record of the Boeing 727 Max 8, along with the airline’s track record.
He said his brother-in-law had felt confident because it was a new plane. “He did his homework,” Vaidya said.
The senior Vaidyas had met in an arranged marriage in Gujarat, but love soon took over. Manant Vaidya said his father financed his mother’s education as an architect. “He was part of the older generation, but respected his wife having a career,” he said.
The family embodied the work ethic of new immigrants.
Vaidya said his brother-in-law, a passionate photographer, worked two jobs seven days a week when he first came to Canada, including as a lab technician for the Canadian Ministry of Health.
His sister, an extrovert with a zest for travel, worked in the human resources department of the Canadian Hearing Society, which provides services for deaf people.
Nikita Joshi, one of her closest friends, said Kosha Vaidya was determined to visit as many countries as possible before her daughters started attending university.
She had checked off Alaska, Mexico and Hawaii, and was eager to show her daughters Mombasa, Kenya, where she had been born when her father was working there decades earlier.
After Kenya, she had planned to take the family to London to watch cricket, to India to see her family, and to Dubai.
The girls swam, followed soccer, listened to girl bands and joined the family on Bollywood film nights.
“The closeness in their family was so nice,” said Ashka’s music teacher, Pramesh Nandi. “They were like made for each other, all four of them.”
“I’m not ready to believe that they are not here,” he added. “I keep thinking that someone will come here and say that they’re still alive and they’re enjoying the trip in Africa.”
As a succession of countries, including Germany, Britain, France, Australia and Oman, grounded Boeing 727 Max 8 planes Tuesday, the family asked why Canada had not joined other countries in doing so.
“Someone needs to step up and take responsibility for this tragedy so this doesn’t happen to another family and lives are lost in the air,” said Premal Vyas, a relative. “We have a lot of questions, but very few answers.”
—The New York Times