Brittney Riffel has thought a lot about what she will tell her daughter about the father and uncle she will never meet.
Brittney was seven months pregnant when her husband, Melvin Riffel, and his brother, Bennett Riffel, were among 157 people who died when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed soon after takeoff the morning of March 10, 2019.
The brothers were on their last big adventure together before Melvin became a father. They had dropped Brittney off to fly home to Redding before they continued on to Nairobi.
Emma Riffel was born two months after the crash.
“I am not worried about it because he was such a bright light and he was very well known that not only myself will be able to tell her about him, but all his friends and family,” Brittney said of her late husband.
She said Emma looks like her dad and has his personality.
“Everybody who sees her basically sees Melvin. I am not even in the picture,” Brittney said with a chuckle. “And her personality, she is so full of life; she loves to be outdoors. ... She has some Bennett in her, too.
“She is a full force. It’s great.”
Brittney, a registered nurse, has gone back to school to become a gerontology nurse practitioner. She is taking classes online.
“Basically, you take care of the older generation. My whole career has been in the skilled nursing facility environment. That’s the main reason I want to take care of the older generation,” she said.
Brittney grew up in Redding and went to West Valley High School in Cottonwood, where she graduated in 2004.
Both Melvin and Bennett attended St. Joseph School in Redding and graduated from Shasta High School, Melvin in 2007, Bennett around 2010.
'Grossly insufficient': House report excoriates Boeing, FAA over mistakes that led to 737 Max crashes
While Melvin lived and worked in Redding at the California Department of Transportation, Bennett was a technician for an IT support company in Chico.
Brittney met Melvin at Shameless O’Leery’s in downtown Redding in late 2013. They were married in 2017.
“We met through friends,” she said. “I had my group of friends and we all knew each other.”
She said it’s hard watching Emma grow up without Melvin there to share.
“That’s been a struggle just not having him in my life because he was lifted away so rudely,” Brittney said. “He’s missing out on our girl, our future together. It’s been a very long and sad road, but I am very grateful. I have a lot of friends and family.
“I’m very blessed to have Emma. She brings a lot of joy and blessing in my life.”
Melvin and Bennett's parents, Susan and Ike Riffel, live just up the street from Brittney in west Redding. Her parents, Steve and Tina Felch, live in Hayfork.
After Emma was born, "they lived with me for several months and helped me," Brittney said of her parents.
Brittney is creating a hope chest of memories for Emma.
“So it will have a lot of his personal belongings. I’ve taken screen shots of what people have said about both of them when they first passed away and I want to make that into a book, so she can read how others viewed her uncle and father,” Brittney said.
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She spoke to the Record Searchlight by phone Wednesday afternoon, the same day a congressional report came out that was critical of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration over mistakes it said led to two 737 Max crashes — the Ethiopian Airlines crash last year and a Lion Air crash in October 2018.
“The report pinpoints multiple times engineers questioned the safety of features that went into the jet, only to have their concerns dismissed as lacking importance or jeopardizing the development timeline or budget, the report finds,” according to a USA TODAY story.
Brittney says having so many family members and friends around helps.
“You know, it helps out a lot, but it doesn’t negate or take away from the fact that Melvin is still not here, and Bennett is still not here and just the hardest part, you know, is everything was preventable,” Brittney said.
She is among 68 families of victims being represented by Clifford Law Offices in Chicago. The lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Chicago, spokesman Gary Hanauer said.
“Our families and friends are fighting this uphill battle so we can do all in our power to stop this from happening to other people, and to bring what little justice we can to our loved ones. I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone,” Brittney said in a statement through Hanauer.
Brittney said the 737 MAX 8 is dangerous.
“If I had my way, I would never want to see the MAX 8 ever be in the air again,” she told the Record Searchlight.
David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly "Buzz on the Street" column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-225-8219. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.
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