Malaysia observed a day of mourning as the remains of 20 of its citizens arrived in the nation more than a month after their flight was shot down over Ukraine.
Coffins draped with the Malaysian flag were carried out of a chartered plane from Amsterdam by military pallbearers in traditional Malay attire. The ceremony was attended by the country’s king, prime minister and other government officials.
Forty-three Malaysians were among the 298 people killed when the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) jet traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17 after it was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Remains of other Malaysian passengers will be repatriated later this month.
Some of the remains received today will be transferred to military aircraft to be flown to the victims’ hometowns across Malaysia, while others were placed in white hearses. Three of the victims were cremated in the Netherlands and their ashes were brought back on today’s flight.
“Malaysia Airlines is deeply saddened by this devastating tragedy,” the company said in a statement today. “It has been a long and painful wait for the families and friends of the passengers and crew onboard MH17.”
The plane carried 283 passengers and 15 crew members, with Dutch travelers making up the biggest national group at more than 190. Other nationalities included people from Australia, Indonesia, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand.
The tragedy was the second air disaster for the nation in five months. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, with 239 passengers and crew on board, sparking the world’s longest search for a missing jetliner in modern aviation history. That plane hasn’t been found.