MH17: Minute of silence observed as Malaysia mourns

  • 22 August 2014
  • From the section Asia

Malaysians observed a moment of silence following the arrival in Kuala Lumpur of the bodies of 20 Malaysian victims of Flight MH17 that crashed in Ukraine in July.

A specially chartered plane took off from Amsterdam and landed around 10:00 local time (02:00 GMT).

National flags are flying at half-mast for the day of mourning.

Flight MH17 is believed to have been shot down by a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels. They deny the claim.

All 298 passengers and crew on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 died on 17 July.

Image caption Family members observed a minute of silence following the arrival of the plane
Image caption Co-pilot Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi and flight attendant Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh were mourned at a mosque
Image caption A group of Malaysia Airlines staff were on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur airport
Image caption The coffins were draped in the national flag of Malaysia

From office workers to train drivers, many among the nation of 30 million observed a minute's silence as white hearses drove the remains from the airport to private funerals in various provinces.

The country's public transportation, including the national rail system and Kuala Lumpur's monorail, paused during the minute of silence.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who turned his Twitter and Facebook pages black, wrote a condolence message that was widely shared.

At the scene: Jonathan Head, BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

This was a full state occasion. The flag-draped coffins were solemnly shouldered by soldiers clad in white and gold, and the procession of hearses driven slowly past the King and the Prime Minister.

It is unusual for civilian victims of an air accident to be accorded this kind of honour; but then this has been an extraordinary, unlucky year for Malaysia's aviation industry.

Very little has been said in the build-up to this Day of Mourning about that other flight, MH370.

It must be assumed that the 239 people on board that Malaysian Airlines plane are dead, but with no wreckage, no bodies, and no explanation of what happened, it has been impossible to hold the kind of ceremony held today.

As we watched the family of flight attendant Hamfazlin Sham bury her in a cemetery outside Kuala Lumpur, there was a palpable sense of relief, that at last it was over.

Her sisters were pleased with the large turnout, and the attention they were getting from the government and local politicians. It has taken Dutch forensic experts a month to identify these first 20 of the 43 Malaysians on board. "But at least we had a body to bury", said one sister.

There has been no such finality for the families of those on board flight MH370.

"Last month, 43 Malaysian lives were taken over eastern Ukraine. Today we mourn the loss of our people. Today, we begin to bring them home."

"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."

Transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a statement that the government will "redouble" efforts to bring home the remaining victims.

Malaysia Airlines is organising a public prayer session and a spokesman also expressed the company's condolences.

Earlier on Thursday, a contingent of Malaysian soldiers met the plane to escort the coffins to the hearses.

All the coffins were draped in the national flag. Three of the 20 bodies have been cremated in the Netherlands.

Investigation hampered

The victims' bodies have been given to their families and relatives to be laid to rest.

This is the first time Malaysia is holding a national day of mourning for civilian victims.

The honour has traditionally been accorded only to the royal family and heads of government.

Of the 43 Malaysian victims, 28 have been identified in the Netherlands so far, which is leading an international investigation into the crash in eastern Ukraine.

More than 200 coffins with remains of the victims have so far been taken to the Netherlands.

But the inquiry is being hampered by continuing fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian rebels near the crash site.

Image caption Debris from MH17 was scattered across 35 sq km (13 sq miles) of territory held by pro-Russian rebels

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