Leading steward: I won't be home for Hari Raya

Chief steward Mohd Ghafar Abu Bakar's mother, Maimon Sarpan, 74, (right) and adopted mother, Che Ani Yasin, 93, consoling each other after receiving news of the plane crash.

PETALING JAYA - Minutes before taking off on MH17, leading steward Mohd Ghafar Abu Bakar told his mother that he would not be back in Malacca for the coming Hari Raya. He never got off that flight - and he never made it home.

"He informed our mother via WhatsApp that he could not return to Malacca for Raya due to work. I couldn't believe that it was his last message to us," said Suzana Ismail, 48, who is Mohd Ghafar's half-sister, when contacted yesterday.

She described Mohd Ghafar - a father-of-four (three sons and a daughter) - as a humble, helpful and friendly person who was close to their mother.

She said the family was grieving over the passing of Mohd Ghafar, 54, who had worked for Malaysia Airlines for more than 25 years.

"There are no more tears left to cry. I am all tired out and we hope Allah will give us strength to go through this," Suzana said in between sobs.

The family members, she said, found out about the tragedy through the media.

"My elder sister first heard the news on TV. My brother's daughter, who is working with the Singapore Airlines, then immediately contacted her mother in Ampang," she said.

Suzana said the last time they spoke to each other was in March, about a cousin's wedding in Kampung Seri Tanjung in Masjid Tanah, Malacca.

According to his nieces, Mohd Ghafar was a kind man who loved to try new food.

"We bonded through food because he loved tasting new dishes while his wife enjoys cooking," said a teary Nur Masturah Mohtar, 19, at their uncle's home in Ampang.

Her sister Nur Munirah, 17, said the last time they met was in June during a wedding celebration in Malacca.

Describing Mohd Ghafar as well-liked, mild-mannered and funny, she recalled: "His favourite trick was to ask us to salam (greet) him, but when we extended our hands he would pull them to his chin so that the back of our hands would rub against his stubble, sending us squealing."

The sisters heard about the MH17 crash from their mother, another of Mohd Ghafar's younger sisters.

"I was at the office when Mum called and I just could not believe it," she said. "So she sent me a photo of the crew manifest and I broke down," said Nur Munirah.

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