The bodies and ashes of 20 Malaysians killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July arrived home on Friday. It was the first repatriation of victims from the flight.
The victims arrived in Kuala Lumpur and were received in a solemn ceremony. The government had explicitly urged people to all wear black and keep a minute of silence and prayer to honor the victims.
All 298 people onboard died when the plane was shot down over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists as it was on its way to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. The victims included 43 Malaysians and 195 Dutch nationals. An international investigation is ongoing, but no one has been arrested.
Efforts to locate and identify the remains of the passengers have been complicated by ongoing fighting. The remains of 30 Malaysians have so far been identified. More remains will return home soon.
They were given full military honors upon arrival and a day of national mourning was declared, the first in the country’s history.
“Today we mourn the loss of our people. Today, we begin to bring them home,” Minister Najib Razak said. “Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Today we stand with you, united as one.”
Apparently Mr. Najib claimed personal credit for negotiating a deal with pro-Russian separatists for the return of all the bodies. Nevertheless few details have been released over what the separatists were given in return, and some feel that these bargain with the so-called terrorists set a dangerous precedent.
“They were casualties of war, unfortunately, and the world community needs to work toward a solution to these conflicts,” said Abdul Mueiem, a Malaysia Airlines pilot who attended the ceremony. “Everyone is feeling sad and depressed, but the important thing is that Malaysia Airlines is one big family, and we are together with the nation.”
The victims were carried by a specially chartered Malaysia Airlines jet from Amsterdam, where they were taken from the crash site. Three of them had already been cremated. The coffins were individually lowered from the plane and slowly carried by teams of eight soldiers to waiting hearses.
The disaster occurred just four months after another Malaysia Airlines jet, flight MH370, mysteriously disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is believed to have crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.