Bells pealed and flags flew at half mast in memory of the 298 people killed when flight MH17 came down in an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists, in the first national day of mourning since wartime Queen Wilhelmina died in 1962. King Willem-Alexander and Prime Minister Mark Rutte joined dignitaries on the tarmac as two military aircraft carrying 40 plain wooden coffins landed at Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands.
A military guard of honor stood to attention as a trumpeter played The Last Post, the military funeral call for people killed in war.
After a minute’s silence – observed in stations, factories, offices and streets across this stunned nation – servicemen from all four branches of the Dutch military boarded the Dutch Hercules C-130 and Australian Boeing C-17 to carry the coffins to 40 waiting hearses lined up on the runway.
Relatives of some of the victims were present at the airport but were shielded from the media glare, officials said.
Thousands of people lined the 100 km (62 mile) route, watching from motorway bridges as the cortege traveled from Eindhoven to the military base at Hilversum where the bodies will remain until they can be identified, a task that could take months.
As the cortege passed, drivers spontaneously stopped their cars and watched silently from the side of the motorway. Some clapped in tribute,
others threw flowers on the hearses.
The process will be repeated many times over coming days as the bodies of all the victims are brought home.
Amid U.S. accusations that the rebels shot the civilian plane down in error with a Russian-supplied missile, an opinion poll showed an
overwhelming majority of the Dutch want sanctions imposed on Moscow, even if it hurts their own economy.
The Netherlands has disproportionately large trade and financial flows with Moscow due to its position as an oil and commodities trading hub and an offshore base for companies.