The Netherlands was a nation in mourning on Friday, after news that 189 of the 295 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were Dutch citizens. The flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was operating as a code-share with Dutch flagship airline KLM, with flight number KL4103 as well as MH17.
The downed plane is the Netherlands’ most devastating air disaster since 1977, when a KLM plane collided with a Pan Am jet on the ground at Tenerife airport, killing 583 people. That collision between two Boeing 747s is the deadliest air crash ever.
With a population of 16.8 million , the country lost approximately .0011 percent of its total population in the MH17 crash. In comparison, .0009 percent of Americans—2,624 total—were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who cut short his vacation in Germany after news of the crash, called Thursday a “black day” and ordered flags at all government buildings to fly at half-mast.
“The whole of the Netherlands is in mourning,” he said on Thursday at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. “This beautiful summer day has ended in the blackest possible way.”
News of the crash dominated the Dutch media. De Telegraaf, the Netherlands’ largest paper, led with the headline “298 Deaths” in black capital letters. The subhead read, “Horrible Murder, 154 Dutch Victims.”
Another daily paper, Algemeen Dagblad, printed the words “In Shock” over a photo of a man covering his mouth in horror at the news of the crash.
In a nation known for restraint and the avoidance of strong public emotions, the news has rendered many Dutch citizens numb. USA Today reports that Nijmegen, one of the oldest towns in the country, was set to end its traditional Four Day Marches on Friday. But the mood was no longer festive. A sign at the starting gate of the race read, “We are shocked by the events surrounding the plane crash on Thursday. We offer our condolences to those who lost loved ones.”
“People are very upset, mostly grieving a lot and they are also sorry for the loss of other people,” 29-year-old Lianne Kjperus of Amsterdam told USA Today. “Everyone is talking about the disaster, everyone is pretty emotional about it.”
Names of Dutch victims aboard the flight slowly started to trickle in to the press, though the official list of passengers has not yet been released. One of the first victims to make news was Cor Pan, a man who took a photo of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 before he boarded Flight 17.
“If the plane disappears, this is what it looks like,” he wrote jokingly in the caption of the photo he posted on Facebook. He and his girlfriend, Neeltje Tola, were leaving the country for a vacation. According to Facebook profiles, the couple lived in Volendam, a town near the Dutch capital, where Tola owned a flower shop.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that a handwritten note was taped to the storefront of the flower shop, reading “Dear Cor and Neeltje. This is unwanted, unbelievable and unfair. Rest in peace. We will never forget you.”
Other victims included renowned AIDS researcher Joep Lange, who was on staff at the Academic Medical Center hospital in Amsterdam, and his colleague, Jacqueline van Tongeren. In a statement, the hospital said: “Joep was a man who knew no barriers. He was a great inspiration for everybody who wanted to do something about the AIDS tragedy in Africa and Asia.”
Dutch leaders called for an international investigation of the crash and access to the crash site, reported Reuters. But the country has not yet placed blame on any one side for the attack.
At a press conference in the Hague, Rutte minimized expectations that the Netherlands would press for European Union sanctions on Russia or Ukrainian separatists. “If I bang my fist against the table now ... then I reduce the chance of the Netherlands and all those who support us getting the facts on the table,” he said.
Rutte said he had a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday and asked for Russia’s cooperation in the investigation.
“Putin emphasized that he, too, is in favor of an independent and broad international investigation, which I value greatly. At the same time, we will have to see in following days from the practical actions whether that will actually happen,” he said.
At Amsterdam’s airport, flights carried on as usual, even as television news crews and mourners gathered. The BBC reports that another Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 departed on schedule 24 hours after Thursday’s ill-fated flight.