Netherlands grapples with Malaysia Airlines disaster

AMSTERDAM — The single red roses sold at Schiphol airport come with festive stringers taped to a plastic sleeve. The flowers typically are bought for celebrations, to welcome home loved ones at the arrivals gate. But on Friday, the roses served a different purpose. And so a clerk at the small Bloem flower shop was busy carefully removing the stringers, leaving each flower stark, as she sold one rose after another to people mourning the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which claimed the lives of 192 Dutch citizens and left this tiny nation stunned.

Flags flew at half-staff across the country. Official festivities were cancelled. The popular Four Day Marches ended in the town of Nijmegen without the usual hearty celebrations. The prime minister vowed to leave no stone unturned in bringing the guilty to justice, and a team of Dutch experts was set to join the search for clues in Ukraine, where the airliner went down Thursday night. The crash has dominated national news.

Many people here seemed still to be grappling with the scope of the disaster before considering any next step.


‘‘This never happens to Holland,’’ Shirley Reule, 26, of The Hague, said at the airport.

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‘‘We aren’t angry in this case,’’ added Arthur Puttelaar, 51. ‘‘We’re sad and bewildered.’’

On his way home from work, Puttelaar stopped by the Schiphol airport and dropped off three roses at a makeshift memorial growing outside Terminal 3, from which Flight 17 departed.

The memorial, roped off and guarded by an airport worker, was one of the few public signs of an air disaster that killed 298 people. Herman Plukaard, who works at the airport, said he left flowers to honor all the people who died.

‘‘No one can imagine this can happen,’’ Plukaard said. ‘‘This is madness.’’


But the life of an airport goes on. At Schiphol, which is the 14th-busiest in the world, travelers, many of them in shorts and tank tops during the city’s heat wave, still had planes to catch. In one concourse, Murphy’s Irish Pub still offered its nachos-and-Heineken specials, not far from a vendor still selling orange soccer jerseys of the Dutch national team.

And Malaysia Airlines still flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, even using the same number from the airliner that was shot down: Flight 17.

Flowers were placed near the house of a family that was killed in the MH17 disaster.
Flowers were placed near the house of a family that was killed in the MH17 disaster.

Yet the crash dominated people’s thoughts. In the Netherlands, with a population close to 17 million, many people at least indirectly had connections to the crash victims.

Joceline Kranenburg, 28, recalled hearing one of the victims give a speech at her university.

Charlotte Wolthuis, 29, had several friends who knew people aboard the flight.


‘‘This is Holland, it’s a small place, and someone always knows of someone else who is involved,’’ Wolthuis said, as she sat by the side of a pond at Amsterdam’s central Vondelpark.

In two weeks, she is supposed to fly Air Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur.

Outside the airport, Gladys Willems, 22, scrolled through her Facebook feed as she waited for her flight. She flipped past a constant stream of images and messages about Flight 17. It seemed that it was the only thing going on. And in many ways, it was.

‘‘It’s unbelievable,’’ Willems said.

Then she put away her phone. She had a flight to catch. And she was off.

A Dutch flag flew at half-mast at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam.
A Dutch flag flew at half-mast at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam.