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Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: Cruel wait continues for victims' families awaiting truth

They left Schiphol on shuttle buses as Holland mourns

Distraught relatives left the airport departures hall on shuttle buses, some tearfully clinging one another for comfort, most simply staring ahead, stunned, as they prepared for the anguished wait for news of loved ones most likely lost in a distant conflict zone.

“You cannot imagine what has happened to these people,” Malaysia Airlines executive Huib Gorter said of the relatives, vowing to devote all their manpower to looking after the bewildered men and women who had started gathering at Schiphol Airport last night as the sun set over Amsterdam.

“This beautiful summer day has ended in the blackest possible way,” said the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Joining in the mourning yesterday were people across The Netherlands, after it emerged that more than 170 of the 298 people aboard Flight MH17 when it crashed deep in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine were Dutch, including children and a prominent AIDS researcher.

Flags flew at half-mast this morning at government buildings across The Netherlands, as people tried and process the nation's worst loss of life in an aviation disaster since 1977, when 238 Dutch citizens were killed after a KLM plane collided with another aircraft at Tenerife airport.

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For the relatives of the victims, all they can do now is wait at an undisclosed location in Schiphol Airport as scant details trickle out of an area in Ukraine where a separatist insurgency is raging. Mr Gorter said the location was about seven or eight hours by road from Kiev, but said they were trying to get officials to the site as quickly as possible.

  The carrier has also offered to fly relatives from Amsterdam to Kiev, should they wish to travel closer to the site of the tragedy. A Malaysian Airlines official told the Evening Standard that it was unlikely to arrive in Amsterdam until later today, however, so the relatives' painful wait goes on.

What world leaders are adamant about is that the family members will get clarity on the cause of the crash, with both the rebels and the Ukrainian government forces accusing the other of shooting the plane down and amid reports that insurgents were hindering access to the site.

While Mr Rutte would not be drawn on the cause of the crash, his Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, called for “unhindered and safe” access to the site for rescuers and investigators. US President Barack Obama also called Mr Rutte late last night to offer his condolences.

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“The President told the Prime Minister the United States was prepared to contribute immediate assistance to support a prompt, full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation,” the White House said, urging “immediate access... to facilitate the recovery of remains”.

It also emerged yesterday that the plane was carrying a number of researchers and activists to an AIDS summit in Australia, among them Joep Lange, a Dutch national who was prominent researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society “The HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant,” the society said yesterday.