Flags of the world mourn MH17 victims

The sound which interrupted the solemn silence at Eindhoven Airbase was the most symbolic of all.


Seventeen flags of the countries impacted by MH17, raised at half mast, rattled gently against their poles.

The breeze offering a defiant reminder that the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines disaster nearly a week ago in the Ukraine are gone but not forgotten.

With sun shining and not a cloud in the sky on Wednesday, the first 40 bodies touched down on Dutch soil from Kharkiv.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove best summed up the mood.

“Why is it that such sad occasions often occur on beautiful days,” said Sir Peter following the completion of a moving ceremony.

At 3.47pm local time, the Dutch C130 Hercules arrived with 16 bodies on board.

Minutes later, the Australian RAAF C17 transporter landed, with its Australian crew carrying 24 victims.

The two planes formed a v-shape on the tarmac as military personnel took guard.

About 1000 relatives and friends of victims, Australians among them, and dozens of dignitaries – including Sir Peter, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the king and queen of Holland – watched on.

In a separate section stood hundreds of the world’s media.

Finally, the overwhelming sound of the propellers and engines ceased and stoic flags aside, all went quiet.

Then the spine-tingling Last Post rang out.

After a minute’s silence, the dignified process of moving bodies from the planes to 40 hearses began.

The black hearses lined up in two rows of 12, in between the two aircraft.

One can only imagine the thoughts of relatives, wondering whether the bodies inside each wooden casket was a loved one.

Until a specialist team in Hilversum, north Holland, begins the agonising process of identifying bodies on Thursday, Sir Peter said the dead were nationals of a united humanity.

“So today they were all Australians. And they were all Dutch. And they were all the other nations,” he said.

Letters and numbers were written on a small strip of masking tape stuck to the side of each casket.

Some featured just one inscription to identify who or what was inside; others had up to three markings of letters and numbers.

What that might mean is a gruesome thought, indeed.

The hearses departed the tarmac in silent convoy; 24 in the first motorcade, 16 in the next.

Later, the Dutch C130 and Australian RAAF would take off, back to the Ukraine to do it all again, until all the accounted bodies have arrived in Holland for identification.

Australian families and friends will be notified as soon as bodies are recognised, a process which could take months.

In the meantime, the flags of the world will remember.

Operation Bring Them Home has begun.