Heartbroken family's wait to find out who brought down Flight MH17

Glenn with sister Tracey Withers
Glenn with sister Tracey Withers
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Three years ago today, Glenn Thomas was busy planning a huge celebration that would have spanned two generations and two countries.

A whiteboard in the 49-year-old’s Swiss flat contained a long list of names of people he wanted to attend a party in both Geneva and London.

There, on September 21, revellers were to mark the 50th birthday of Glenn and his twin sister Tracey, the coming of age of Tracey’s daughter Brittany, and Tracey’s 28th wedding anniversary.

“It was going to be a huge big do,” Glenn’s nephew Jordan told The Gazette. “But it never happened.”

That’s because Glenn was on board the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, shot down close to the border of Russia and Ukraine in a crime that shook the world and left a total of 298 people died and 298 families devastated.

Since that fatal day – Thursday, July 17, 2014 – a probe carried out by Dutch investigators has ruled the Boeing 777 – flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur – was downed by a

Russian-made rocket fired from territory held by pro-Russia separatists.

But suspects in the atrocity have yet to be named, while a proposed international tribunal was vetoed by the Kremlin, which has disputed the Dutch Safety Board’s findings.

In the run-up to today’s milestone, Malaysia’s transport minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters at a memorial service a decision on who will be charged will ‘hopefully’ be made at the end of this year or early next year.

But Jordan, 25, who lives in Blackpool and travels to work at a law firm in Manchester, said: “I definitely think until we get a prosecution there will never be closure.

“We know how the plane came down but we want to put a name and face to the crime. We want it to be solved.”

Tracey, who flew to Amsterdam yesterday ahead of a service at a huge new memorial site close to Schiphol Airport, said Glenn’s name will be unveiled on a plaque there after a ‘long, hard three years’.

“It never leaves you but you carry on day by day,” she said.

“I live the way my brother would want me to live.

“We agreed years ago that if anything ever happened, we would go out and enjoy ourselves and carry on.”

Tracey said her life was changed forever when her phone rang as she relaxed around a Spanish pool, telling her the bad news.

Dazed, she went back to her hotel room, where her daughter Brittany was watching rolling news on the TV – unaware her beloved uncle had been on board, on route to Australia for a conference with the World Health Organisation.

Months earlier, the pair had talked about volunteering in Fiji and now, three years on, Brittany will mark the tragedy from a small village in the South Pacific country.

Living with a local family, she is honouring her uncle’s memory by teaching youngsters how to spell, write, and how to play sports.

“She has had to go on a plane and travel half way around the world to do this,” Tracey said. “I’m so proud.”

Jordan, who said he will look at old photos and reminisce today, added: “It was something my uncle was desperate for her to do.

“It’s quite nice she will be over there for the next month. She sent a card back with a picture of Glenn on the front.

“We are quite lucky because we have a small family but we are close.

“I think that’s why she has gone away to do this. It’s something my uncle pushed her to do.”

Most of the victims of MH17 were Dutch, though the tally included people from 17 nations.

And while Tracey said she feels ‘lucky’ compared to those families that lost children or were unable to repatriate their loved one’s body, she said the worst chapter of her lifetime will ‘never end’ until she has more answers.

She said: “It’s what I call one of the most horrific days in my life. I never want anybody to experience what I experienced.

“We all want to know why. Somebody pushed that button. Why? It was a heat-seeking missile and it was aimed at the plane, but why?

“Was it an accident or was it done on purpose?

“It will never bring them back but perhaps in a little way we would get closure.”

Although Russia has suggested the aircraft was brought down by the Ukrainian military, Dutch investigators found in 2015 it was hit by a Russian Buk missile.

Those suspected of carrying out the atrocity will be prosecuted in the Netherlands, it was revealed earlier this month.

Bert Koender, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “Flight MH17 was downed in a conflict zone which was the scene of heavy fighting and which is still difficult to access.

“We’re still seeing a great deal of disinformation and attempts to discredit the investigation.

“The ongoing criminal investigation enjoys virtually unanimous support from the international community.”