THE HAGUE – Dutch families jetting off to exotic destinations, more than 100 AIDS experts, British football fans and a twice unlucky Australian family were among victims of the doomed Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine.
As the true horror of the fate of flight MH17 — likely shot down in separatist-held territory near the Russian border on Thursday — continue to unfold a day later, so did the stories behind its victims.
“It was my brother and best friend,” said a distraught Sander Essers, 66, who lost his brother Peter, sister-in-law Jolette Neusink and their two children Emma, 20 and Valentijn, 17 in the crash.
“I spoke to my brother 20 minutes before he boarded the flight,” an emotional Essers told AFP in an interview, adding: “But I can’t tell you what he told me,” as tears welled up in his eyes.
Peter Essers’ wife, Jolette, was a clinical psychologist who ran her own practice and ironically worked with victims traumatised by war.
Essers described the couple’s daughter Emma, a first-year medical student at the northern Groningen University, as a “lively and adventurous person”.
Their son Valentijn, still in high school, loved sport and excelled in tennis and football.
– Massive loss –
Also on board was prominent former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange, who together with as many as 100 other Aids activists were on their way to Melbourne for the 20th International Aids Conference, media reports said.
“It’s unimaginable,” Lange’s close friend and colleague at the PharmAccess Foundation, Jaap Goudsmit said.
“My wife saw him yesterday (Thursday) morning, before he actually flew,” Goudsmit told AFP.
Set up in 2000, the foundation fights for the distribution of anti-retroviral treatment in Africa.
“This is a massive loss. We are devastated,” PharmAccess boss Onno Schellekens said in a statement.
The Essers and Lange are among the 189 Dutch victims, who also included florists Cor Schilder, 33 and Neeltje Tol, 30.
Also among the dead too are World Health Organisation spokesman Glenn Thomas, who was also on his way to the conference.
His death was announced in Geneva: “It is with deep sadness that WHO lost one of our colleagues in the Malaysia crash.”
In Australia, a family was struck by both Thursday’s crash as well as the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which went missing in March.
Maree and Albert Rizk, who were returning to Melbourne after a month-long holiday in Europe, died in Thursday’s crash, Australian media reported.
Maree’s father is married to a member of a Queensland family which lost husband and wife Rodney and Mary Burrows on MH370 when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, Rodney’s brother Greg Burrows told AFP.
The Rizks are among 27 Australian victims who died in the crash, the country who lost third-most victims after the Netherlands and Malaysia, who lost 29 citizens.
Two Newcastle United fans were among the nine Britons who perished in the crash.
“It is with great sadness that we learn today the tragic news of the deaths of John Alder and Liam Sweeney, two of the Club’s most loyal supporters,” the football club said in a statement.
“John and Liam were travelling out to New Zealand together to support Newcastle United in the forthcoming Football United Tour,” it added.
– ‘World in shock’ –
“A day after it happened, the tragedy continues to unfold,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference in The Hague.
“Today the true individual stories of the those victims — families, young people and a large group of scientists emerged,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam, where flight MH17 took off, a steady stream of mourners continued to lay flowers outside the terminal building.
“Holland is mourning,” read one of the cards of the bunches of flowers — many of them red or white roses.
“World is in shock. This should never have happened. RIP.”