Personal tragedies at heart of Malaysia's second national air disaster

KUALA LUMPUR Sat Jul 19, 2014 10:28am IST

A woman writes messages during a special prayer for the victims of downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur July 18, 2014. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A woman writes messages during a special prayer for the victims of downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur July 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Airlines flight attendant Sanjid Singh was not scheduled to be working on board doomed Flight MH17, but had swapped with a colleague - just months after his wife, also an attendant, had swapped her shift to avoid Flight MH370.

The contrasting twists of fate make up just one of hundreds of poignant stories triggering a nationwide outpouring of grief in Malaysia where many are finding it difficult to grasp the twin disasters befalling their country and national airline.

U.S. officials believe Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by Russian-backed separatists over Ukraine. Bodies were scattered over miles of rebel-held territory near the border with Russia. All 298 people on board were killed, including 192 passengers from the Netherlands.

Flight MH370 vanished in March with 239 passengers and crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.

One of the victims of MH17 was attendant Sanjid Singh.

"He told us recently that he swapped with a colleague for the return Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight," his father told the Malaysian Insider news website.

"He always called us before he leaves for his trip," Jijar Singh, 71, said.

"Sanjid's wife was meant to fly on MH370 but swapped with another colleague at the last minute."

An entire family of six were returning home to Malaysia after three years in Kazakhstan and the head of the family, Tambi Jiee, 49, was keen to celebrate Hari Raya, the end of the Muslim fasting month, at home before reporting for work in a new posting.

His wife, Ariza Ghazalee, 47, was an avid social media user, the Star newspaper said. Before boarding the plane, she uploaded photos of the family's packed bags on the Internet.

Ariza's mother, Jamillah Noriah Abg Anuar, 72, told reporters she had spoken to the family just hours earlier.

"They called me from Amsterdam. Before entering the plane, they called. Nothing strange. It was a normal conversation."

'VERY DIFFICULT'

Passenger Md Ali Md Salim, 30, posted a 15-second video prior to take-off showing people packing bags into overhead compartments over an announcement telling passengers to switch their phones off.

The caption read: "Wish me luck, in the name of God", with a hashtag in Malaysian saying "My heart feels nervous".

"We always kept in touch on Facebook and the last time, he said he wanted to come home this year to spend Hari Raya with his family," a friend, Mohd Zaem Nordin, told the Bernama news agency.

Salim was pursuing a psychology doctorate in the University of Amsterdam and was planning to finish next year, said Zaem. "I did not know that his wish would not be fulfilled and that this video is his last".

The MH17 tragedy came just as many were beginning to get over what happened in March.

"For something like this to happen, just four months after MH370, just when we were beginning to get on with life, it is just very difficult to take," one airline executive told Reuters at Kuala Lumpur airport, sobbing as he spoke.

"You can't imagine how draining it is, how emotional it is. Everyone can't believe this is happening again, we are going through all of the emotions once again."

Malaysia Airlines said it was waiving fees for changing or cancelling tickets for a few days "in light of the MH17 incident".

"Passengers who wish to postpone or cancel their travel plans can obtain a refund, including for non-refundable tickets," it said.

The waivers only apply until Thursday for travel until the end of the year.

(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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