Distraught relatives gather to await news

Tearful scenes as relatives gather at Schiphol airport seeking information


There were tearful scenes at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam last night as relatives of those feared lost in the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 began gathering to try to establish exactly what happened over Ukraine.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said he was “deeply shocked” by the disappearance of the aircraft while on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. He said he was returning to the Netherlands from Brussels to monitor the unfolding events.

While uncertainty continued as to whether the aircraft was shot down as it crossed Ukrainian airspace, Mr Rutte said that “the thoughts of the Dutch people are with the passengers, their families and friends”.

He said he had already spoken to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, but he warned that there was still “considerable uncertainty” about the sequence of events.

The authorities at Schiphol said that more than half the people on board – 154 – were known to be Dutch nationals. There were also 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six British nationals, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filippinos and one Canadian.

The nationalities of more than 90 people have yet to identified

Travel agency passengers

As efforts continued last night to establish what happened, the authorities at Schiphol initially said they were “looking into” reports that the flight had crashed while flying over Ukraine, indicating that hard information was proving difficult to acquire.

The airport later said it had activated its contingency plan for emergencies to provide comfort and the most up-to-date information to relatives of passengers arriving at the airport in search of news.

A special lounge was opened to give the relatives some privacy as they began their heart- breaking wait – knowing it is likely that all on board were killed.

KLM cod

eshare More details of the flight have been emerging. It i

s understood it was a codeshare between Malaysian Airlines and KLM, and it was a regular daily service between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.

Its KLM flight number was KL4103, the airline confirmed last night in a brief statement.

It was also confirmed locally that there were 295 people on board – 280 passengers plus a crew of 15.

The flight was due to take off at midday, but left Schiphol’s terminal three at 12.14pm for a flight of 10,229km (6,356 miles), which usually takes about 12 hours and 10 minutes.

It was due to land in Kuala Lumpur’s terminal M at 6.10am local time today.

Reports in the Netherlands say the aircraft’s signal was lost at 1.21pm while it was cruising at an altitude of 33,000ft at 500mph-600mph, which means it appears to have been in the air for about an hour and seven minutes before it hit the ground.

Alexander Pechtold, leader of the centre-left D66 party, said his thoughts were with relatives of the passengers “who are now struggling with this terrible uncertainty”.