IT WAS a sombre day at the iconic Dataran Merdeka as some 300 people came together to watch the live feed of the ceremony to honour 20 victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 tragedy, whose remains arrived here yesterday.
Many of the attendees were seen clutching stalks of flowers as they waited to observe the minute of silence.
Although the sun was blazing, the attendees waited quietly for more than two hours to witness, through a giant screen, the final coffin being lifted into the waiting vans.
Even motorists plying the busy Jalan Raja in front of Dataran Merdeka halted once the minute of silence was announced.
Among the attendees, 30 staff from the human resources department of United Overseas Bank (UOB) stood out as they held white roses during the ceremony.
Staff Suhada Ahmad Jamil, 31, said it was the department’s own initiative to make a trip to Dataran Merdeka to watch the ceremony.
“We wanted to show our respect to the victims and offer our condolences to the families.
“Although this is only a small gesture, we hope the families can take comfort knowing that the whole country stood united to share in their grief,” she said.
She added that some 30 colleagues from the department had joined in to purchase three dozen pale yellow roses for the ceremony, which they later distributed to the other attendees.
Cutting a lone figure, Alfred Koh, 58, said he decided to watch the ceremony at Dataran Merdeka to honour his childhood friend who was on MH17.
Declining to name the victim, Koh said: “We knew each other since school but drifted apart once we entered university. But we did keep in touch once in a while. When I found out that he was one of those who had perished in the tragedy, I was shocked and upset. I wish we had attempted to get together more often. I will miss him.”
Civil servant Faridah Abu Bakar said she and four other colleagues made the trip from their office in Sungai Besi to watch the ceremony at Dataran Merdeka.
“We decided to watch the ceremony here as a symbolic gesture on our part to share in the country’s grief,” she said, adding that she and her colleagues arrived at the field at 9.30am.
At Menara DBKL 1, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) staff were given time off work to mourn as the first batch of the MH17 victim’s remains arrived home.
DBKL deputy director-general Datuk Normah Malik said all staff were allowed to gather between 9.30am and 11.30am at the lobbies of Menara DBKL 1 and Menara DBKL 3 to watch the ceremony live via big screens that were installed at the lobbies.
“The purpose of this event is to share our feelings with the victims’ families and to let them know that we as Malaysians are united in this time of grief.
“We may not know the victims or their loved ones personally but we still share the same feelings of anger and sadness, as the tragedy has taken innocent lives,” she said.
Normah joined hundreds of DBKL staff and public to watch the ceremony live at Menara DBKL 1, The crowd patiently waited at the lobby and stood in silence to observe the minute of silence. Some also said a silent prayer.
DBKL Legal Department administration clerk Lekha Bai T.K Vasudevan, 58, said she was very sad for the victims’ loved ones.
“There were many children and young people on board, who had a lot to look forward to. Many children lost their mothers, fathers and siblings in a very cruel way.
“This should not happen to anybody and I am overwhelmed with sadness.
“I heard about the MH17 crash while I was on a train to Singapore for a holiday. The occasion was filled with sadness as information on what actually happened to the downed aircraft surfaced bit by bit throughout my vacation,” she said.
Vivian Chee, 61, from Selayang, who was at Menara DBKL 1 to run some errands, stayed back to watch the live screening of the ceremony.
“I read about the live screening at City Hall and decided to come here at the scheduled time.
“There were many Malaysians onboard and they died in a very cruel manner. It is a very sad day for all Malaysians,” she added.
DBKL assistant agriculture officer Mohammad Yusaini Bahari, 48, said paying the last respects was the least he could do as a fellow Malaysian.
“At least the remains could be brought safely home for the families to perform the last rites,” he said.
For DBKL planning technician Ramlah Jamil, 58, the whole episode reminded her of the MH653 crash in Tanjung Kupang, Johor.
“I thought the Tanjung Kupang tragedy was the worst but this MH17 crash definitely surpassed it. All my life I have never imagined such a tragedy will happen to a Malaysia Airlines flight.
“It makes me very sad to watch this ceremony but it is my way of showing my respect,” she said.