Antonis Mavropoulos did everything he could to catch his connection, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302: He didn’t bring a suitcase. He was the first passenger off his plane. And when he got to the airport in Ethiopia, he ran.
He didn’t make it. A few hours later, he learned that what he thought was his misfortune was, in fact, the kind of spectacular good luck that can make you spend the rest of your life wondering about fate and chance.
Shortly after takeoff on Sunday, Flight 302 crashed en route to Nairobi, Kenya, killing all 149 passengers and eight crew members on board. Mr. Mavropoulos would have been the 150th passenger, window seat 2L.
“March 10 2019 — my lucky day,” Mr. Mavropoulos, the chief executive of a waste management company in Athens and president of the International Solid Waste Association, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable consumption, wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday.
He was on his way to Nairobi for the United Nations Environment Assembly when he missed his connecting flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His flight landed there at 7:40 a.m., and his flight to Nairobi left 35 minutes later, so he knew he had to hurry, he said in a telephone interview on Monday.
He was the first passenger to exit his flight at Addis Ababa, but an airline representative who had come to get him could not find him, he said.
He also did not have a suitcase, which meant he could move more quickly — but also that his connecting flight would not wait for his luggage to be transferred.
So he ran around the airport — “I was mad because there was no one to help me get there faster,” he wrote — trying to make it to Flight 302. He reached the gate two minutes after the doors had closed.
“When I got there, boarding had closed and I could see the last passengers in the bellows boarding the plane. I was demanding to get in too, but they didn’t allow it,” Mr. Mavropoulos said on Monday.
Three hours later, as he was boarding the next flight to Nairobi, two security guards escorted him to the airport’s police station, over his loud protests — he did not want to miss his meetings in Nairobi.
But an official explained that he should “stop protesting and thank God,” instead. They could not let him leave before they had established who he was and why he had not boarded the flight, which had crashed.
Mr. Mavropoulos was shocked.
“The thoughts came like streaks of lightning: ‘Oh my God,’ ” he said. “I’m alive because the connection ambassador was a few minutes late, and then that I was demanding they’d let me in the flight — imagine what would have happened if they had done so.”
He realized he should contact his family, let them know that he was not on Flight 302, that small, random events had made him miss it: not having a suitcase, missing the airline representative, running late. A spokesman for Ethiopian Airlines confirmed on Monday that Mr. Mavropoulos’ booking was changed to the 4:25 p.m. flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.
He thanked his good fortune for what he had berated as bad luck. “I broke down the moment I had that thought,” he wrote.
Mr. Mavropoulos, a 52-year-old engineer, said he tried to think logically when he finally did board a flight to Nairobi, a few hours after the crash.
“I thought maybe I shouldn’t go to Nairobi, that I should stay in Ethiopia, or go back to Athens,” he said on Monday. “But then I thought that there is no way that a second flight of the same airline, and the same route would crash on the same day.”
In Nairobi, he met two colleagues at the airport. “They weren’t my wife or daughter, but I hugged them, and they hugged me,” he said. But the moments since have been tough.
He did not sleep at all on Sunday night. He spent hours thinking that he should not travel as much as he does, to spare his family the stress, and thinking over what felt like a second chance at life.
“I’m devastated for the people who are now gone, but I also feel so lucky to have not been among them,” he said.