KUALA LUMPUR – Black-clad Malaysians paused for a minute of silence on Friday on a nationwide day of mourning held to sombrely welcome home the first remains of its 43 citizens killed in the MH17 disaster.
Malaysians across the country of 28 million went silent at 10:55 am (0255 GMT), about an hour after a Malaysia Airlines flight 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 other top officials were on hand to receive the coffins in a solemn ceremony at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Flags were flown at half-mast nationwide and authorities had earlier asked citizens of the Muslim-majority country to refrain from festive activities and to don black out of respect for the victims.
Commuters streaming into the bustling streets of the capital Kuala Lumpur earlier in the morning 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.
Dozens of Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and pilots gathered near the welcoming ceremony in their blue uniforms, holding Malaysian flags and flowers to honour their deceased colleagues.
Shazly, 40, a flight attendant who gave only her first name, citing a company request regarding contact with the media, remembered Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh. They joined the airline at the same time in 2004 and become close friends.
'Life must go on'
"She was a very jovial girl. She loved her job very much. She was very close with all her friends," she 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."
The 43 Malaysian dead included 15 crew.
The special flight arrived from Amsterdam, where remains have been taken for identification by Dutch authorities investigating the tragedy.
All 298 on board the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight were killed, including 193 Dutch nationals.
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.
The West accuses Russian-backed separatists of shooting down MH17, while Moscow blames Ukraine.
The tragedy compounded the country's 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 its 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. Malaysia's government has said 30 of its citizens on board MH17 had so far been identified. Further remains will return in coming days.
Malaysians are heavy users of social media, and Twitter feeds filled with expressions of sorrow, with MH17-related hashtags dominating top-trending rankings.
Many expressed hope that the return of the remains can help Malaysia find closure from both air disasters. — AFP