SEPANG: Families of some of the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 received closure when the remains of their loved ones were brought home more than a month after the plane was shot down over the Ukraine.
It has been a trying time for the families as they had to wait for news on their kin, wait for the bodies to be recovered from the crash site that was in a war zone, wait again for the remains to be identified, and then for the caskets to be flown home.
The ceremony at the KL International Airport yesterday morning to receive the remains of the victims was respectful, simple and dignified.
Many throughout the country also grieved with the families as the nation observed a one-minute period of silence as a mark of respect for the victims.
The remains were flown from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 9.40pm on Thursday (Malaysian time) via a special Malaysia Airlines flight which touched down at KLIA at 9.55am yesterday.
The Boeing 747, assigned the flight code MH6129, was piloted by senior MAS captains Datuk Misman Leham, Bakri Othman and Zaim Khalid, as well as First Officer Yap Koon Kong.
An air of sadness tinged with anticipation marked the sombre moment when the aircraft pulled up slowly to the airport’s Bunga Raya Complex where close to 1,000 people, comprising the family members, royalty, government officials and others, had gathered to witness the ceremony.
The huge and imposing aircraft added to the dignity of the event with its signature MAS red-and-blue livery on an all-white fuselage with the name of the airline in blue and the Jalur Gemilang emblazoned next to it.
Many in the crowd could not resist snapping pictures with cameras and smartphones as the aircraft drew closer and then stopped.
Then a hush settled over the crowd as its engines started to power down. It was about 10.15am and as soon as the engines fell silent, 20 white hearses drove onto the tarmac led by a military motorcade.
The hearses – one for each victim – assembled in a neat row in front of the aircraft as pallbearers, formed by members of the Malaysian Armed Forces, stood at the ready.
The plane’s bay door opened and military personnel nearby entered its cavernous interior with the help of a mechanical platform on the tarmac.
After that, the caskets – draped with the Malaysian flag – were brought out in pairs.
As these reached the tarmac below, the smartly dressed pallbearers in white ceremonial uniform carried each casket into the hearses.
Every step they took along the way was with their heads held high and the caskets firmly shouldered.
They showed no concern for the hot sun beating down on them; their intent firmly fixed on giving the victims a dignified homecoming.
Tears flowed freely amongst the family members and others in the crowd by this time, and there were also the sounds of quiet sobbing coming from a few.
As the doors of the 20th hearse shut on the casket within at about 10.55am, it signalled the start of the nationwide one-minute of silence.
Leading the nation in this moment of respect for the victims was Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah.
Also there with the families were Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Cabinet ministers and their deputies, ambassadors, government officials and politicians.
The rest of the gathering comprised MAS pilots, cabin crew and other personnel, with many of the women covering their heads with black scarves.
“Last month, 43 Malaysian lives were taken over eastern Ukraine. We mourn the loss of our people and today we begin to bring them home,” Najib said in a statement issued after the ceremony.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Today we stand with you, united as one.”
Tears again flowed when the hearses started making their way to the victims’ final resting places in their hometowns.
Those caskets that had to be ferried to states that were too far to reach in a few hours by road and to Sarawak were taken in the hearses to waiting military helicopters and transport planes.
There were 43 Malaysians on board MH17, including 15 crew members, when it was hit by a surface to air missile.
No one has claimed responsibility for the crime, which happened during the conflict between Ukraine and Russian forces.
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