Malaysia Airlines flight 17

Relatives of MH17 dead cling to memories of loved ones as they grieve

Those who knew victims recall their cherished moments and last interactions with them

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:35am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

Malaysian Airlines flight attendant Sanjid Singh was not scheduled to work on doomed Flight MH17, but had swapped duties with a colleague - just months after his wife, also an attendant, switched shifts to avoid Flight MH370, which went missing.

The contrasting twists of fate make up just one of hundreds of poignant stories triggering a nationwide outpouring of grief in Malaysia and other countries whose citizens were affected by the tragedy.

Flight MH370 vanished in March with 239 passengers and crew members en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.

Sanjid Singh was one of the victims on board MH17, which was downed on Thursday.

"He told us recently that he swapped with a colleague for the return Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight. He always called us before he left for his trips," his father, Jijar Singh, 71, told the Malaysian Insider news website. "Sanjid's wife was meant to fly on MH370 but had swapped with another colleague at the last minute."

An entire family of six was returning home to Malaysia after three years in Kazakhstan. The family's head, Tambi Jiee, 49, was keen to celebrate Hari Raya, the end of the Muslim fasting month, at home before reporting for work in a new posting.

His wife, Ariza Ghazalee, 47, was an avid social media user, the Star newspaper said. Before boarding, she uploaded photos of the family's packed bags.

Ariza's mother, Jamillah Noriah Abg Anuar, 72, said she had spoken to the family just hours earlier. "They called me from Amsterdam. Before entering the plane, they called."

Passenger Mohammed Ali Salim, 30, posted a 15-second video prior to take-off showing people packing bags into overhead compartments over an announcement telling passengers to switch off their phones. The caption read: "Wish me luck, in the name of God", with a hashtag in Malay, saying, "My heart feels nervous".

"We kept in touch on Facebook and the last time, he said he wanted to come home this year to spend Hari Raya with his family," friend Mohammed Zaem Nordin told the Bernama news agency.

Salim was pursuing a psychology doctorate at the University of Amsterdam and was planning to finish next year, said Zaem. "I didn't know … that this video would be his last," he said.

In total, 298 people - a cross-section of life and experiences - boarded the 12.15pm flight on a cloudy day at the airport in Amsterdam. Within five hours, the plane would be shot down in Ukrainian airspace. The victims included 44 Malaysians, 28 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Vietnamese, three Filipinos and one person each from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong. The Netherlands had the highest number of casualties, with 192 deaths.

Eighty children, three of them infants, died.

At least seven passengers were travelling to Melbourne to attend the 20th International Aids Conference. Among them was Joep Lange, a Dutch researcher and a pioneer in the field since the earliest days of the Aids epidemic. He had worked to improve developing nations' access to medication.

"Joep was a calm voice but an absolutely fierce and committed advocate for access to HIV care for all," wrote Paul Volberding, the director of the Aids Research Institute at the University of California in San Francisco, via e-mail. Volberding was already in Australia for the conference, where 14,000 attendees were still stunned by the losses to their community.

All the victims left behind relatives searching for answers and clinging to memories.

"It's a black day," said Ron Peter Pabellon, a Filipino cake maker in Dubai who fears he lost an aunt, uncle and two cousins. "I want to see [them] with my own eyes … I don't want to accept it."

Pupils at the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart in Sydney gathered for a prayer meeting to remember their teacher, Sister Philomene Tiernan, 77, who was killed. "For me, she's been a great mentor, and she's also a personal friend," Principal Hilary Johnston-Croke said, her voice breaking.

A high school in the central Dutch town of Woerden that lost three pupils from three families threw open its doors for friends, relatives and teachers to console one another.

Karlijn Keijzer, 25, was a Dutch woman who had gone to the US for her graduate studies. She had returned to the Netherlands for summer break and was flying to Malaysia for a vacation with her boyfriend, Laurens van der Graaff, 29.

On the campus of Indiana University, she was known as a hard-working doctoral student who spent long days in the lab testing Alzheimer's drugs. She was also known as a quirky, exuberant member of the university's rowing team, who energised her teammates by pounding her chest and yelling before 5am practices.

"Every day after practice, we asked her to teach us Dutch words," recalled Jaclyn Riedel, who was at times Keijzer's rowing partner. "And she did, with so much happiness."

Her teammates once asked her to teach them the word for "garden gnome", which turned out to be kabouters. "It made no sense, but it was so funny, and from then on wherever we went, if we had a good practice, we would cheer 'kabouters, kabouters'. If we won a game, it would be 'kabouters!'" Riedel said.

Reuters, Associated Press, Washington Post