A kiss, a prayer: The last hours of Malaysia Airlines MH17's victims

Jul 23 2014, 13:11 IST
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SummaryThe next morning, she would drop Miguel and his big brother Shaka at the airport so they could catch Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the first leg of their journey to Bali to visit their grandmother

In a bedroom in a townhouse near Amsterdam, Miguel Panduwinata reached out for his mother. ''Mama, may I hug you?''

Samira Calehr wrapped her arms around her 11-year-old son, who'd been oddly agitated for days, peppering her with questions about death, about his soul, about God. The next morning, she would drop Miguel and his big brother Shaka at the airport so they could catch Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the first leg of their journey to Bali to visit their grandmother.

Her normally cheerful, well-traveled boy should have been excited. His silver suitcase sat in the living room, ready to go. Jetskiing and surfing in paradise awaited. But something was off. A day earlier, while playing soccer, Miguel had burst out: ''How would you choose to die? What would happen to my body if I was buried? Would I not feel anything because our souls go back to God?''

And now, the night before his big trip, Miguel refused to release his mother from his grasp.

He's just going to miss me, Calehr told herself. So she stretched out beside him and held him all night.

It was 11 p.m. on Wednesday, July 16. Miguel, Shaka and the 296 other people aboard Flight 17 had around 15 hours left to live.

The Boeing 777 tasked with shepherding its passengers from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, held the promise of beginnings and endings for many on board: the thrill of a new adventure or dream vacation for some, and the comfort of going back home for others.

It was love and a fresh start that had lured Willem Grootscholten aboard. The burly, 53-year-old divorced former soldier from the Netherlands - a gentle giant of a man - had sold his house and was moving to Bali to build a new life with his darling Christine, a guesthouse owner.

He'd met her by chance on a trip to the Indonesian island last year.

Christine, who like many Indonesians has only one name, had heard through a friend that some guy had fallen off a cliff and hurt his back. She told her friend to take him to a traditional healer she knew. The next day, Grootscholten called Christine to thank her.

They connected over coffee. Grootscholten had to return to Amsterdam, where he was working as a bouncer at a pot-selling cafe. But the two stayed in touch online, and their relationship blossomed. On

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