KUALA LUMPUR: Black-clad Malaysians observed a minute of silence and a nationwide day of mourning on Friday as the first remains of the country’s 43 citizens killed in the MH17 disaster returned home.
People across the country of 28 million went silent at 10:55 am (02:55 am Manila time), about an hour after a Malaysia Airlines jet landed with the remains of 20 people killed when MH17 was blasted from the sky by a suspected surface-to-air missile over Ukraine on July 17.
Malaysia’s King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, Prime Minister Najib Razak and dozens of other top officials were on hand for a somber reception ceremony at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Flags flew at half-mast nationwide and various entertainment events and other festivities in the Muslim-majority country were cancelled or put on hold out of respect.
Residents of the capital Kuala Lumpur were overwhelmingly black-clad, including many Muslim women in black Islamic headscarves, as state television aired recitations from the Koran and photos of the Malaysian victims.
“No words can express the sense of loss in seeing the bodies return, my prayers are with the victims and families of #MH17,” Najib said on his Twitter feed.
Dozens of Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and pilots in their work uniforms, some weeping, gathered near the welcoming ceremony holding Malaysian flags and white flowers to remember their lost colleagues.
Life must go on
Shazly, 40, a flight attendant who gave only his first name, citing a company request regarding contact with the media, mourned Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh, who joined the airline with him in the same 2004 recruitment class.
“She was a very jovial girl. She loved her job very much. She was very close with all her friends,” he said.
“Life has to go on, even though it’s very difficult for us to accept what has happened to our airline. They are our friends,” he added.
Some wore T-shirts with their dead colleagues’ names and the Arabic phrase for “See you in Paradise.” Fifteen crew were aboard.
The first batch of remains included those of Ariza Ghazalee, 46, and her son Muhammad Afif, 18, part of a family of six wiped out in the disaster.
It was a far different homecoming than what they had planned — the family was returning to live in Malaysia after three years abroad, and Ariza’s final Facebook post had said, “Starting our new migration. Praise God.”
Friday’s special flight arrived from Amsterdam, where remains have been taken for identification by Dutch authorities investigating the tragedy.
All 298 on board Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight MH17 were killed, including 193 Dutch nationals.
The West accuses Russian-backed separatists of shooting down the plane, while Moscow blames Ukraine.
A military guard conveyed the coffins and urns —at least three people have already been cremated—from the plane and into waiting hearses.
Some were to be put aboard other aircraft for transport to their final resting places throughout the country.
A number of prayer sessions and funerals were planned for Friday in mosques, churches and temples, reflecting Malaysia’s multi-ethnic make-up.
The MH17 tragedy has compounded Malaysian grief over the troubling and still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 just four months earlier.
The airline and the Malaysian government came under fire worldwide for their chaotic response to MH370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The plane is believed to have inexplicably diverted to the Indian Ocean, but no trace of the jet has been found. Some angry relatives have alleged a cover-up.
The government has said 30 Malaysians on MH17 had so far been identified. Further remains will return in coming days.