Lancashire man feared dead in Ukraine plane disaster

People walk amongst the debris at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine
People walk amongst the debris at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine
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A Lancashire man is one of the 298 passengers feared dead in the Malaysian airline disaster.

Glenn Thomas, 49, was on board flight MH17 – thought to have been shot down over war-torn Ukraine.

Glenn Thomas

Glenn Thomas

He is one of at least nine British nationals known to be among those on board the Boeing 777-200,

Mr Thomas grew up in South Shore, Blackpooland went to Highfield High School.

He worked as a journalist in the resort before joining the BBC in the early 1990s.

Friends say he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, around a decade ago to work for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and later the United Nations.

He posted on Facebook yesterday of a “long day’s journey into night” before boarding an Air France plane from Geneva to Amsterdam.

He then connected to the Malaysian Air MH17 flight from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – bound for Kuala Lumpur – before planning to complete the final leg of his journey to Melbourne, 

After hearing news of the crash Mr Thomas’ family had to wait for confirmation that he had boarded the flight.

The authorities confirmed the news the family had all feared late last night and that Mr Thomas was, indeed, among those feared killed in the tragedy.

It is understood he has a twin sister, Tracey, who lives in Blackpool. He was not married and did not have children.

Tributes flooded in last night over social networks.

Paying tribute to Mr Thomas, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said: “I can confirm he was on the flight travelling to Australia to attend the Aids conference in Australia.

“For the time being we would like to give his family time to grieve. We have lost a wonderful person and a great professional. Our hearts are broken. We are all in shock.”

On Twitter, Timothy O’Leary, communications team leader at the WHO’s Western Pacific office, wrote: “I grieve for my friend and former WHO colleague Glenn Thomas who died in the missile attack on MH17 over Ukraine.”

BBC TV news editor Rachel Kennedy wrote: “Horrified to discover lovely Glenn Thomas on MH17. Always a smiling face, will be hugely missed.”

Freelance journalist Ilan Moss wrote: “I’m absolutely devastated to learn of death of WHO colleague Glenn Thomas in MH17 on way to AIDS 2014.”

Javier Munoz wrote: “Sad news today, a member of my WHO family was in the Malaysia Airlines plane.”

Toby Johnson added: “Sorry to hear of the loss of all in MH17. For Geneva-based media pros, loss of WHO’s Glenn Thomas particularly sad.”

The authorities at Schiphol said that more than half the people on board – 154 – were known to be Dutch nationals.

There were also 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filippinos and one Canadian.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called for an international investigation to establish what to happened to Flight MH17 which crashed into territory held by pro-Russian separatists.

Speaking at the Foreign Office following emergency talks with ministers and officials, Mr Hammond said: “I’m deeply shocked by this appalling incident and I send my heartfelt condolences to all those who may have lost family and friends. We’re determined to get to the bottom of understanding what has happened here.

“As yet we do not have any definitive information about how this incident occurred and I don’t want to speculate at this stage. We believe there must be a UN-led international investigation of the facts.”

He said Britain was prepared to make Air Accident Investigation Branch assets and specialists available to assist such an investigation.

US vice president Joe Biden said the airliner had “apparently” been shot down - although the details were unclear.

“I say ‘apparently’ because we don’t actually have all the details. I want to be sure of what I say. Apparently, have been shot down. Shot down, not an accident. Blown out of the sky,” he said.

The disappearance of the airliner from the radar screens as it flew over eastern Ukraine prompted immediate allegations and counter-allegations with the government in Kiev and the separatist rebels blaming each other.

Graphic images from the crash scene near the village of Grabovo showed a pall of thick smoke hanging above the site.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said “no stone can be left unturned” in the effort to find out what happened.

“If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice,” he said.

He said the Ukrianian authorities had agreed to open negotiations with the rebels to create a safe corridor to the crash site.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “shocked and saddened” by the tragedy, while Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko described it as a “terrorist act”.

Ukraine has been torn apart by internal strife since the overthrow of the Moscow-backed regime of Viktor Yanukovych, with Russian backed separatists already accused by the authorities in Kiev of shooting down military jets with missiles supplied by Russia. The Ukrainian government immediately blamed the separatists with President Poroshenko declaring the “armed forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets”.

Anton Gerashenko, an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister, said the plane was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, a Soviet era surface-to-air missile system.

But a spokesman for the rebels said the plane must have been shot down by Ukrainian government troops.

Russian president Vladimir Putin laid the blame for the crash on Ukraine.