Belgians among victims of MH17 disaster


Passengers on the plane that was downed over Ukraine last week included a 12-year-old from Brasschaat

Outrage at “this terrible crime"

Six Belgians were among the 298 victims of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the foreign affairs ministry has confirmed.

The flight, from Amsterdam Schiphol to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, was brought down last week by a missile over part of Ukraine currently controlled by pro-Russian rebels. There were no survivors. The vast majority of the victims, 193 in all, were of Dutch nationality. The others were from Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Britain, Germany, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand. The Belgian dead were initially numbered as four, but two had dual nationality and were listed on the passenger manifest under their other nationality.

The victims include a family from Brasschaat in Antwerp province. Jan Noreilde (51) and his 12-year-old son Steven were on board with wife and mother Annemieke Hakse (47), a Dutch national. Noreilde, originally from Vichte in West Flanders, was financial director of a Japanese company, and his wife a lawyer in Antwerp.

“They were very hard workers, and that’s why they were so looking forward to their holiday,” his sister told Het Nieuwsblad. The family was planning to fly on from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, a destination Steven had been allowed to choose. The boy’s football club in Brasschaat decided at the weekend to retire his number six jersey as a mark of his loss.

Also among the victims was Liliane Derden, whose family lives in Brasschaat and Schoten near Antwerp, though she lived in Canberra, Australia. She had moved to Australia with her baseball-player husband, whom she met in Belgium. She worked for the National Health and Medical Research Council, and was on a six-week trip to Europe to visit family. The youngest of nine children, she was also on a visit to say goodbye to her eldest brother, Uwe, aged 69, who has terminal cancer. “She came to say goodbye to me, and now I have to mourn her,” he said. “How on earth are we supposed to make sense of that?” She had been on her way to Perth for a first visit with her first grandchild, aged seven months. 

The eternal optimist

Benoit Chardome (51) is listed as being from Namur, though he was brought up in Berchem in Antwerp. After living more than a decade in New Zealand, where he ran a hotel in Auckland and later opened two popular restaurants in Queenstown, he moved to Bali in Indonesia, where he ran a country club. He came to Antwerp in June with his Malaysian partner Puput to get married, and this was to be their honeymoon. Last week he was summoned back to Bali by work, and while Puput visited friends in Switzerland, he set out to fly back with the intention of rejoining her later.

She came to say goodbye to me, and now I have to mourn her. How on earth are we supposed to make sense of that?

“Benoit was the eternal optimist,” an old friend from his scouting days in Antwerp said. “He was always totally positive, and very enterprising.”

The tragedy also ripped apart the lives of Rik Schuysemans from Wetteren in East Flanders and his wife, Martine Baele. They had been due to take a holiday touring in Asia together, but Baele felt ill two days before departure and decided to recover and join her husband later. “I’d rather have caught that flight,” she said. “Together with Rik is where I belong.” Schuysemans was a highly regarded teacher at the trade school in Aalst, teaching French and driving skills. Despite being a driving instructor, he didn’t own a car. “He was very environmentally conscious, and saw that as a good way to save money,” a colleague explained. “Money that he enjoyed spending once a year on a major trip.”

The last victim has so far been described only as a woman in her 20s from Groningen in the north of the Netherlands, who has double nationality and was originally counted among the Dutch victims.

The federal prosecutor in Brussels has opened a formal murder investigation, in order to be able to gather information and evidence that could be useful in any later proceedings. Under the principle of universality, the Belgian justice system may investigate the death of any Belgian abroad which resulted from a crime, and even carry out a prosecution.

Belgium’s acting prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, meanwhile, joined his Dutch colleague Mark Rutte in expressing “outrage” at what he called “this terrible crime”. He also called on the troops in the region to allow free and unconditional access to the site by international experts, and demanded a “serious and impartial investigation” into the incident.

Photo: Flowers are left outside Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, while people queue to sign a book of remembrance. Photo by Robin van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/Belga