THE DNA testing on the remains of victims of flight MH17, which
was brought down over eastern Ukraine, has identified 176 of the
283 victims, the deputy director of emergency planning for the
Dutch airline KLM, Kees van der Louw, told airport chaplains at
their inter- national conference in Amsterdam last week.
"That means that a significant number of people are going to
learn that there is nothing to return to them," he said.
It has been reported that some body parts remain scattered
around the wreckage site in the disputed Donbas region of Ukraine,
and that international investigators are unable to gain access to
the area because of the ongoing conflict.
The Revd Wina Hordijk, a Protestant chaplain at Schiphol
Airport, in Amsterdam, heard about the disaster on the radio as she
drove to her holiday. "At first it was breaking news that a plane
had crashed in Ukraine," she said, "and then it was breaking news
that the crashed plane had taken off from Schiphol."
She cancelled her holiday plans and returned home, waiting to be
called in. Ms Hordijk is one of three chaplains employed at
Schiphol. She works with the Revd Nico Sarot, an Old Catholic and
Anglican chaplain, and a Roman Catholic priest.
Within a day, the three chaplains were working alongside a team
of volunteers, providing care and support for the victims' families
and airport staff. They also supported the many thousands of people
who turned up at the airport to lay flowers and sign the books of
Typical of these was a young man who was "so very angry and sad
by what had happened" that he went from his home in Amsterdam to
the airport. "He had never done anything like this before," Ms
Hordijk said. "He laid his flowers and he signed the book of
condolence, and then he cried and cried and cried. We put our arms
There was already a strong relationship between the chaplains
and the airport authorities, Fr Sarot said; so it was easy for the
chaplains to work alongside the official response. The chaplains
and their volunteers, nevertheless, have each received a personal
letter from the airport's CEO, thanking them for the part they
played in the aftermath of the disaster.
The government of Malaysia turned to the chaplains to request
prayers of blessing over the bodies of 20 victims of flight MH17
before they were repatriated to Kuala Lumpur. Buddhist and Islamic
faith leaders were brought in to work with the chaplains in the
simple ceremony in the airport's mortuary.
Mr van der Louw said that KLM knows that the victims' families
and friends will be affected by the disaster for many years to
come. KLM still receives phone calls every year on the anniversary
of the Tenerife airport disaster in 1977, in which 583 people were
"How long do you think the aftercare period will last? As long
as it takes," he said.