Flags in Malaysia flew at half-mast after the nation’s second air tragedy in four months, as Prime Minister Najib Razak urged citizens to pray for the country to be protected from disasters and threats.
Forty-four Malaysians were among the 298 people killed when Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine two days ago after it was hit by what the U.S. said was a surface-to-air missile launched from insurgent-held territory. Malaysia is a victim of geopolitical turmoil between Russia and Ukraine, Najib said yesterday.
Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai will head to Kiev, while Malaysia’s Parliament plans to convene a special session to condemn the act that brought down the aircraft. In March, Malaysian Air 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.
“It’s a double-tragedy year for Malaysia,” said Lim Kee Seng, 57, a businessman who was in the administrative capital of Putrajaya for a meeting. “I am speechless looking at all the things that are happening.”
Malaysian Air said today it will offer refunds to passengers who want to cancel or postpone travel plans after this week’s crash, including on non-refundable tickets. Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya is already in Kiev.
“I feel very sorry for the Malaysian people as this is their national carrier,” said Christine Moses, 33, as she awaited her flight to Melbourne on Emirates Airline at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. “Unfortunately if it’s me, I wouldn’t fly Malaysian Air right now.”
Flight 17 carried 283 passengers and 15 crew members, with Dutch travelers making up the biggest national group at more than 190, according to the manifest released by Malaysian Air. Other nationalities included people from Australia, Indonesia, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand.
In Australia, the national flag was flown at half-mast today as a mark of respect for its citizens who died in the crash, while a commemorative service is planned for a later date.
Some on the doomed flight were returning to Malaysia to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in late July, the holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. More than 60 percent of the Malaysian population is Muslim and Eid is their biggest celebration of the year.
In the final days of Ramadan, the nation’s shopping malls and bazaars are packed as people buy clothes or material for traditional outfits and purchase everything from pineapple tarts to flower arrangements as they prepare to welcome visiting relatives.
On the front page of the Malay Mail newspaper today, the headline “Global Fury, Malaysia Weeps” accompanied a picture of grief-stricken Jamilah Noriah Abang Anuar, a 72-year-old whose daughter Ariza Ghazalee was on the plane with her husband and four children. Ariza’s last posting on her Facebook page was a photo of 14 pieces of luggage at the airport.
The Star newspaper showed passengers Shuba Jaya and Paul Goes kissing their daughter Kaela, and asked “Who Killed These Families?” Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his step-grandmother was on Flight 17.
“What we Malaysians are experiencing is a situation of real-life human drama versus two mysterious aviation tragedies,” the New Straits Times said in an editorial today. “The judgment - Malaysians are simply not ready for this.”
Malaysia’s armed forces will send two C-130 Hercules aircraft to Ukraine to assist the investigation team, state news agency Bernama reported, citing armed forces chief Zulkefli Mohd Zin. Najib has insisted the perpetrators be swiftly brought to justice if it is proven the plane was shot down.
Liow said today Malaysia is “deeply concerned” the crash site hasn’t been properly secured and there are indications vital evidence hasn’t been preserved in place.
“Interfering with the scene of the crash risks undermining the investigation itself,” he said. “Any actions that prevent us from learning the truth about what happened to MH17 cannot be tolerated. Failure to stop such interference would be a betrayal of the lives that were lost.”
The tragedy of Flight 17 has prompted Malaysia’s political parties to put aside differences for now. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he supported for Najib’s call for a parliamentary session on the crash.
“We in Pakatan are totally committed to any resolution to categorically condemn the mass murder committed by the perpetrators,” Anwar said in an e-mailed statement, referring to his opposition alliance. “In this regard, the prime minister must be unequivocal in naming the party or parties responsible, whoever they may be.”
The opposition Democratic Action Party plans to hold a candlelight vigil tonight.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at email@example.com Shamim Adam, Paul Sillitoe