THE HAGUE, Netherlands >> Forensic teams fanned out across the Netherlands on Saturday to collect material that will help positively identify the remains of victims killed in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine. Families and friends of the dead huddled to console one another at churches, schools and sports clubs across the nation.
Altius, a small soccer club on the edge of the central city of Hilversum, was typical of scenes that played out across the Netherlands.
A couple of dozen members held a small ceremony at Altius’ clubhouse to remember a family of four killed in the crash, as the team’s flag fluttered at half-staff in the warm afternoon breeze.
Charles Smallenburg was a long-time volunteer at the club, his young son Werther a promising striker in the D1 youth team, club chairman Tom Verdam told The Associated Press after the brief get-together. Charles’ wife Therese and daughter Carlijn also died, the club said.
As Hilversum’s mayor walked away and families unlocked their bicycles behind him and cycled homeward, Verdam said the commemoration was simple, but emotional.
“We had a moment that we could each share emotions and talk about it,” he said. “It’s a small club, so everyone knows everyone”
The same could almost be said for this nation of 17 million people.
“Everybody knows somebody,” was the front-page headline of national newspaper NRC Weekend.
While grieving continued, the task of identifying bodies strewn over Ukrainian fields since Thursday’s crash got underway.
Police said in a tweet that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team would be visiting victims’ relatives over the coming days. Other Dutch forensic experts were en route to the crash scene, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in Ukraine.
Their aim is to build a database of material including DNA and photographs of distinguishing features like scars and tattoos that can be used to identify bodies and body parts recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines said 193 of the 298 passengers and crew killed in Thursday’s aviation disaster were Dutch.
The airline released the full list of passengers and crew Saturday and appealed to family and friends of the victims to contact the carrier so it can get a full picture of the next of kin.
“In the past 45 hours, the airline together with various foreign embassies have made every effort to establish contact with the next-of-kin but is still unable to identify many more family members,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement.
The European Union police coordination body Europol said Saturday it would assist Interpol and other agencies in identifying victims in Ukraine.
“We will do our utmost to support the work that must be done following this horrific incident, where hundreds of families and friends to the innocent victims on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 are grieving and left with unanswered questions,” Europol Director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines said it is assessing security in Ukraine before taking a decision about possibly flying next of kin to the country where their family members lost their lives.
A spokesman for the airline said family members were being cared for in Amsterdam while a team from the carrier, including security officials, is in Ukraine assessing the situation.
The spokesman, who declined to be named in line with company policy, said the team was trying to travel “500 kilometers (310 miles) through difficult territory” to reach the area where wreckage of the Boeing 777 landed.
Dutch newspapers carried pages of photos and stories Saturday about the dead. Travelers flying out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.
“I am not really afraid. It’s good that they kept the same flight number,” Mirelle Geervliet said as she prepared to board the aircraft. “It doesn’t change anything. If you change the number, people will start to be afraid.”
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on a visit to the Netherlands, was among those who signed the condolence book at the airport.
“This is a real tragedy — a tragedy for families, for nations and for the HIV AIDS community,” Annan said, referring to a researcher and at least five other people who were traveling to an AIDS conference in Australia. “We should all hope that a thorough international investigation will be conducted and we will know what happened and the culprits should be held to account.”