The strangely prophetic Facebook post of MH17 passenger Cor Pan
Sunday - 23/06/2019 22:36
A Dutch man’s chilling Facebook post before boarding Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 seems to have foreshadowed the tragedy ahead.
As passengers started to shuffle towards the boarding gate for Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, it was just another hectic day at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
It was around midday local time on July 17, 2014 and the flight, bound for Kuala Lumpur was a full one — packed with people from all around the globe. We now know there were 39 Australians, along with Canadians, Filipinos, Europeans, Malaysians and a New Zealander — we also know that, along with 15 crew members, today would be the last day of these innocent people’s lives.
Among the travellers — many of them going home, others either on a holiday or a business trip — was Dutchman Cor Pan, heading for a holiday to Kuala Lumpur with his girlfriend Neeltje Tol.
In what was perhaps a sign of Pan’s black humour, he posted a photo to his Facebook page of the Malaysian Airlines plane he was about to board — the MH17. He had paused to take a photograph of the plane as he made his way down the sky bridge towards the Boeing 777-200.
“If the plane disappears, this is what it looks like.”
His friends commented on the post, wishing him a safe trip and asking him to post some holiday snaps.
They had no idea that his Facebook post would prove to be eerily prophetic. It would also be the last time they would ever hear from him.
IN THE AIR
On-board the flight, everything was business as usual. 30 year-old Malaysian man Mohd Ali bin Md Salim posted a video on Instagram showing passengers putting cases in the overhead bins. There’s also an announcement that it was time for mobile phones to be switched off.
It’s the last known video taken from inside the doomed plane.
At the airport, local plane enthusiasts, Fred Neeleman and Tom Warners photographed MH17 as it took off.
Here is my picture of Malaysia Airlines 9M-MRD taking off from Schiphol today. My thoughts are with pax and crew. pic.twitter.com/zuILsQCzy6
t’s a long way to Malaysia so everyone settled in for the 12-hour flight. Outside, the weather was perfect for flying. Nobody, not in their worst nightmares, could truly imagine what was going to happen.
WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN UKRAINE
Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, a brutal armed conflict was continuing between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces. In recent weeks, several government military aircraft had been shot down.
In retaliation, government air strikes were carried out on areas held by the rebels — more than 13,000 civilians had been killed and heavy fighting had completely destroyed entire villages. More than a million people have now been displaced.
According to investigative group Bellingcat, on the morning of July 17, a group of rebels was seen with a Buk missile launcher. A number of intercepted phone calls revealed that one of the rebels requested a Buk to be transported to the frontline, south of Snizhne in East Ukraine, and that it was taken to a launch site at Donetsk.
Later, Ukrainian officials managed to intercept another phone call between two rebel fighters confirming that the Buk had arrived.
110 MINUTES IN THE AIR
Meanwhile, in the air, passengers and crew of MH17 were oblivious to the evil plans taking place in Ukraine.
According to Dutch air accident investigators, the plane travelled over Germany, Poland and Ukraine, reaching a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet.
But then something very strange happened. The plane suddenly lost contact with air traffic control when it had been in the air for approximately 110 minutes, about 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.
At first, it was a mystery. But it wasn’t long before footage emergedof the crash site in Ukraine’s Donetsk area. Witnesses in the nearby villages were terrified and, at first, thought the war was on their doorstep. They saw the black smoke and, as they ran towards the crash site, they saw dozens of bodies in a field, wreckage from a plane and personal items scattered everywhere, passports, clothing and children’s toys spread across the field. A tragic reminder of the lost souls on-board the doomed flight. Clearly, this was not a military plane.
ON THE GROUND
Igor Girkin — also known as “Strelkov”, Russian for “gunman” — the head of the pro-Russian separatists, used his social media page on Vkontakte, bragging that his men shot down a plane.
In his post, he wrote, “In the district of Torez an An-26 was just shot down. It crashed somewhere near the Progress mine. We warned them not to fly in our skies. Here is video confirmation of the latest ‘fallen bird.’ The bird landed outside the residential zone, no peaceful civilians were injured.”
The post has since been deleted but can still be seen here.
Emergency crews raced to the scene of the tragedy. Part of the plane, along with at least one engine, exploded when it hit the ground, leaving a huge area of blackened debris. A section of the fuselage was in the middle of a field with its windows mostly intact.
News quickly spread in Ukraine that a plane had crashed and video footage was shared online as people collected passports and personal items from the debris, to help identify the deceased passengers and crew.
A local villager who only gave his name as Vladimir, told the media about what he’d seen. “I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke.”
As the separatists came to inspect the crash site, they were faced with absolute carnage — bodies of civilians, including 80 children. Local journalists claimed the rebels were shaken and shocked by the scene because they knew right away it was not a military plane.
In aleaked audioof intercepted conversations between rebels, there is confusion over whether the plane was a civilian aircraft or AN-26.
Reuters was among the first to report that Malaysian airlines had crashed in Ukraine. It wasn’t long before the pro-Russian rebels were blamed for the disaster — not only because one of their leaders had already boasted about it, but also because, a few days earlier, a Ukrainian cargo aircraft had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
THE MISSING BUK
International investigators and journalists have worked tirelessly to uncover the truth about July 17 — that a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile was fired at MH17.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, rebel commander Alexander Khodakovsky was recorded in an intercepted phone call to one of his men, ordering him to find the airline’s black boxes. The call was later made public.
It was also revealed that the Buk believed to have fired the missile was quickly whisked away from the area. Within hours it was on the run. Around 5am on July 18, it was seen being driven on a flatbed trailer, heading east towards Luhansk.
Ukraine officials released this video showing the transportation of a Russian-made surface-to-air SA-11 Buk missile unit, travelling in the direction of the Russian border.
The Buk was apparently minus one missile.
Since this video was released, the Buk has never been seen again.
CLEAN-UP AND COVER-UP
International journalists began arriving in eastern Ukraine, along with officials from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. But it was impossible for investigators to get close to the crash site due to increased fighting in the area.
Six days after the tragedy, the Dutch launched an investigation (139 Dutch people lost their lives). The Dutch investigators reached out to Bellingcat, an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists that use open source and social media investigation to probe various issues.
The Bellingcat team was able to study photos, videos, satellite images and maps in a bid to locate the Buk used in the attack. They were able to track down exactly where the Buk was moved to and then from the site — they were even able to pinpoint the area from where the Buk was fired at MH17.
Days later, victims’ bodies were collected, put into bags and rushed to nearby Torez. Then, following several days of international negotiations, the bodies were transported to Amsterdam where memorial services were held.
That’s when the true horror of the incident was realised. The pain of victims’ families is felt deeply across the world.
And what of the victim’s families? Malaysian Airlines reached out to some families but not others.
When thinking of the MH17 tragedy, most Australians remember the Maslin family, who lost their three children, Evie, Otis and Mo, as well as the children’s grandfather Nick Norris. They were travelling home to Perth after a holiday in Amsterdam.
Anthony Maslin and Marite Norris had stayed in Amsterdam for a few extra days while their children boarded the flight with their grandfather. They told Australian Story they’d woken up to see several missed calls. Then, they saw the news and frantically checked to see if the downed flight was their children’s plane.
The couple still had not heard from anyone at Malaysian airlines, so they rushed to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport where they were told the heartbreaking news.
POINTING THE FINGER
The White House was quick to release an official statement on July 18, stating that MH17 went down “in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fuelled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, matériel, and training.”
In response, President Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian television. Referring to the government in Kiev, Putin said, “This tragedy wouldn’t have happened if there was peace in this land, or at least if fighting hadn’t resumed in the southeast of Ukraine. And undoubtedly, the state on whose territory this happened is responsible for this awful tragedy.”
Days later, Russia’s deputy chief of staff, Andrey Kartapolov, held a press conference where he showed images that claimed to be of Ukraine’s Buk missile system in a position to shoot down MH17. Then, a day later, the Russians told a different story, claiming that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet opened fire on MH17.
Satellite images that were supposedly showing the Su-25 downing the plane were later found to be fake.
It’s been five years since the tragedy and, last week, prosecutors finally announced charges against four suspects. It’s the first time since MH17 was blasted out of the sky that any action has been taken against those believed to be responsible.
A Ukrainian and three Russian men have been charged with bringing a missile into the area in eastern Ukraine and murdering 298 passengers and crew.
A court case will begin in the Netherlands on March 9, 2020.
The Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT) aims to try the suspects under Dutch law. The men who are charged include Russians Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.
But the team believes there are several other “persons of interest” and they continue to appeal for witnesses to come forward with any information. Investigators believe there are other people in higher positions who would have given the green light for the Buk missile to be transported across international borders to allow the tragedy to happen.
Igor Girkin is undoubtedly the most prominent of those charged, as he’s a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence service. In the rebel-held eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Girkin was given the title “Minister of Defence” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Girkin was believed to be in direct contact with the Russian Federation.
Girkin has since released a brief statement: “I can only say that militia did not shoot down the Boeing.”
Bellingcat has published new details of those allegedly involved in the MH17 killings; including the four charged suspects, along with other separatist fighters and military commanders.
In response to the charges, Russia’s foreign ministry released a statement, claiming the accusations are groundless. It says the findings were “aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community”.
It’s unlikely that the four men charged will be present at the trial because Russia won’t extradite them, and they still deny all responsibility.
As for Cor Pan, just hours after he posted his quirky, prophetic Facebook post, the comments on his page had turned from lighthearted well wishes to messages of fear.
Surely his plane isn’t really missing? Did he know something was going to happen?
It wasn’t long before his friends and family were posting messages of condolences and utter despair about losing a much-loved man.
“Rest in peace old friend,” wrote one user, Eric Buijs.
“Goosebumps … rest in peace Cor. Unimaginable,” said Saul Jonk.
Pan’s social media post about MH17 has now been shared tens of thousands of times. Today his Facebook page is a memorial to him — a stark reminder of the day that 298 innocent people lost their lives to a Russian missile in a senseless foreign war that had nothing to do with any of them.
LJ Charleston is a freelance features writer. Continue the conversation @LJCharleston