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Ethiopian Airlines victims include N.J. environmental activist headed to a U.N. meeting

Matt Vecere, a surfer and activist, was among eight Americans to die in the crash. Others included Antoine Lewis and brothers Melvin and Bennett Riffel.

A surfer and environmental activist on his way to a United Nations meeting in Kenya was among eight Americans killed in the plane crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people.

Matt Vecere was a surfer with a passion for environmental causes, according a family statement obtained by NBC 10 Philly on Tuesday.

A New Jersey native living in California, he was on his way to the United Nations Environment Assembly to learn more about environmental issues.

"Matt was passionate about the environment, civil rights, social and environmental justice, and advocating for those less fortunate," his family said. "His passion turned to direct action, rolling up his sleeves to serve causes where he could make a tangible difference."

Vecere developed a deep connection to Haiti after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010 and volunteered with various organizations over the years, his family said. On his personal website, Vecere promoted a 2015 fundraising campaign to rebuild a Haitian orphanage.

IQAir, a Swiss-based company that manufactures air-quality products, confirmed Vecere was one of its employees.

"Matt was a great writer and an avid surfer with a passion for helping others," the company said on Twitter. "Our hearts are with Matt's family and all who lost their lives in this tragedy."

The Ethiopian Airlines flight was headed from Addis Ababa en route to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with 149 passengers and eight crew members on board, the airline said. There were no survivors.

There were no immediate details on what caused the crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, which was new and had been delivered to the airline in November, but the Swedish flight-tracking website Flightradar24 said the plane "had unstable vertical speed" after takeoff.

Three other men have been identified among the eight Americans who were on the Ethiopian Airlines flight.

Antoine Lewis of Matteson, Illinois was in the military and had planned to move to Africa, according to his mother.

She said Lewis was interested in discovering his heritage after taking a 23andMe DNA test, which can reveal one’s genetic identity and ancestry.

Lewis leaves behind his wife, Yalena Lopez, and a 15-year-old son.

His sister Markita posted a tribute to her brother on Facebook: "Losing anyone you love hurts but it's a different hurt when you lose a sibling," she said. "Thank you for always being a awesome big brother always encouraging me, believing in me, and teaching me to live with no fears."

Melvin and Bennett Riffel, who were brothers from Redding, California, were also passengers on the flight, longtime family friend and Redding Chamber of Commerce President Jake Mangas told NBC News late Monday.

The brothers were on their way home from a trip to Australia before the plane crashed.

“These are two guys that when they're in the room, you really know it,” Mangas said. “These guys were just wonderful, and they're going to be missed deeply by this community [and] for those family and friends that knew them the best.”