Schiphol Airport is the wrong place to be for family and friends of those who died on Malaysian flight MH17.
Flowers at the Malaysia Airlines desk are the only clue that this place has a connection to the tragedy that had taken 298 lives less than 24 hours earlier.
Flags in the Netherlands are flying at half-mast as the prime minister, Mark Rutte, gives a media briefing on the second-worst air tragedy in the country’s history, with the death of 189 citizens.
There are the usual queues for flights in this sprawling airport just outside Amsterdam, with passengers again boarding the 11-hour, 45-minute flight for Kuala Lumpur at 12.14pm yesterday.
The relatives of the dead who rushed to Schiphol as soon as news of the disaster broke were moved to a hotel nearby, with police on guard to protect their privacy.
There is little of the overpowering sense of grief that engulfed Cork Airport on June 23, 1985 when Air India Flight 182 was blown up in Irish airspace, killing all 329 passengers and crew.
Then the airport was where the remains were brought in, where recognisance flights landed, where the relatives of the dead, mainly from Canada and India, arrived.
The city of Cork was taken over by the tragedy, with the focus shifting from the airport to the University Hospital as counselling centres and prayer rooms for different religions were set up, pictures by schoolchildren were pinned on the walls and 132 bodies laid out.
Bantry became the spiritual centre for many as the closest land point to the crash site.
But at Schiphol there are just the European executives of Malaysian Airlines, who can add little to the information already available, other than to confirm that they will immediately make $5,000 (€3,700) available to each family to bring some of them to the scene of the disaster in eastern Ukraine. In a country which values restraint and avoids public displays of strong emotion, politicians and media have stuck largely to reflecting sombrely on those who died.
“The whole of the Netherlands is in deep mourning,” said its prime minister Mark Rutte. “This is one of the worst air disasters in Dutch history.”
More than half the 298 victims aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 were Dutch, a loss keenly felt in a country of 15m people.
While Dutch and world leaders demanded an international investigation into the incident, the nation steered clear of hastily accusing any side of shooting the jet down.
Rutte also played down any expectations that the Netherlands would immediately push for tougher European Union economic sanctions against Russia or Ukrainian separatists.
“If I bang my fist against the table now... then I reduce the chances of the Netherlands and all those who support us getting the facts on the table,” he told a news conference in The Hague.
A Dutch official close to the investigation told Reuters that Rutte’s approach was to be cautious in his wording “in contrast to some foreign leaders”.
The official did not name the leaders, although the US vice president Joe Biden said the downing of the airliner apparently was “not an accident” and that it was “blown out of the sky”.
Dutch officials are pressing for access to the site. Frans Timmermans, the foreign minister, was travelling to Ukraine last night with a team of Dutch investigators.
But at Schiphol Airport, life returned to normal with passengers checking in for yesterday’s flight MH17 to Kuala Lumpur.
Some were nervous. “I guess I will go with my gut feeling,” said Angela Molina, as she and her son Tristan waited to fly to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur. “I don’t want to go on. He doesn’t want to go on either,” she said of her son.
The worst air disaster in Dutch and civil aviation history was the Tenerife crash in 1977 when a KLM 747 collided with a PanAm 747. More than 200 Dutch nationals died on the KLM 747 and 583 people died in total.
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