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First batch of remains of MH17 dead arrive in Malaysia

A plane carrying remains of 20 Malaysian victims of the MH17 tragedy has landed in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. 

SEPANG: A plane carrying the first remains of the 43 Malaysians killed in the MH17 disaster on July 17 returned home on Friday (Aug 22), where they were to be somberly received on a national day of mourning.

The special Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam touched down shortly before 10am (0200 GMT), bearing the remains of 20 people killed when the plane was shot out of the sky over war-torn eastern Ukraine. The plane had departed Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at 9.40pm Malaysian (Singapore) time on Thursday for a 12-hour journey to Kuala Lumpur, bringing the first batch of remains in 17 caskets and three urns.

The special aircraft bearing the remains stopped in front of the Bunga Raya Complex at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang for the commencement of the special ceremony to honour the remains of the 11 passengers and nine crew of MH17. The flight, bearing the call sign MH6129, was piloted by MAS chief pilot of flight safety and human factors operation Captain Misman Leham, accompanied by Captain Bakri Othman, Captain Zaim Khalid and First Officer Yap Yoon Kong.

Malaysia is observing a day of national mourning on Friday in honour of the Malaysian victims of the MH17 tragedy. The national day of mourning was the first ever to be held by Malaysia for ordinary citizens. Such observances had previously been held on the deaths of some kings and other leaders.   

Malaysia's King Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah and Queen Hajah Haminah as well as Prime Minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor were among the dignitaries on hand for a solemn ceremony to receive the coffins. The observance was to be followed by a nationwide minute of silence expected to bring its busy streets, schools and businesses to a standstill across the country of 28 million, while flags nationwide flew at half-mast.

Authorities had earlier asked citizens of the Muslim-majority country to refrain from festive activities and don black out of respect for the victims. Commuters streaming into the bustling streets of the capital Kuala Lumpur earlier in the morning were overwhelming black-clad, while state television aired recitations from the Koran and flashed photos of the Malaysian victims.

People began to converge outside the premises as early as 7am to witness for themselves the historic but sad occasion. To date, 30 Malaysian victims of the plane crash have been identified, but only 20 are being repatriated after completing stringent procedures before being released to Malaysian authorities.

All 298 on board the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight were killed, including 193 Dutch nationals. The West accuses Russian-backed separatists of shooting down MH17, while Moscow blames Ukraine.

The caskets and urns bearing the ash of cremated remains will be sent to the victims' hometowns and eventual final resting place in various locations such as Muar, Segamat, Putrajaya, Ipoh, Taiping and Gombak. Military planes and helicopters have been put on stand-by to transport the remains to their respective destinations, including as far away as Kuching, East Malaysia.

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