AMSTERDAM - The Dutch prime minister on Thursday ordered that flags fly at half mast at government buildings across the country after the death of at least 154 of his country's citizens in what he said might be the worst air disaster in the Netherlands' history.
The Dutch were among 295 passengers and crew, including three infants, aboard a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that crashed while crossing above the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting forces controlled by the government in the capital Kiev.
Speaking at Schiphol Airport after interrupting his holiday in southern Germany on news of the crash, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a "black day" for the Netherlands. "The whole of the Netherlands is in mourning," he said."This beautiful summer day has ended in the blackest possible way." Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was operating as a code-share flight with the Dutch flagship carrier KLM, was also carrying at least 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one Canadian.
The 15 flight crew - two captains, two flight officers and 11 cabin crew - were all Malaysian citizens. The nationalities of a further 47 were as yet unknown.
Malaysia Airlines' Europe vice president Huib Gorter told reporters that relatives would be provided with support if they requested it and could be flown from Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur to Kiev if they so wished. "You cannot imagine what's happening to these people right now," he said. "They are our main concern."