With his second year of medical school behind him, Andrei Anghel booked an escape – five weeks in Bali with his girlfriend, before a quick trip home to Canada and, then, another year of school.
It was, his sister Alexandra recalls, a dream vacation. She last heard from him Wednesday night – already morning in Europe. "'Hey, good morning, the next time I message you, we'll be in Bali,'" he wrote. "And I just said, 'OK, please be safe, I love you,'" she recalls.
She didn't know details about his flight, or whether he had a connection. She thought little of reports of a Malaysia Airlines plane crash the next day. Then the messages began arriving. By evening, police were knocking on her parents' door in Ajax, Ont., while Alexandra, 26, flew to them from her Edmonton home. Andrei was among the dead.
"I just don't get it. It doesn't feel real. I just talked to him," Ms. Anghel told The Globe and Mail on Friday, sitting near the Lake Ontario shore, not far from her parents' home. She'd lit two candles for her brother, who turned 24 in May, wedging them into stones by the water. "I miss just hanging out down here with him, at the lake. … and [we'd] just talk about nothing, talk about life," she said. "… I know that pretty soon, I'm going to want some answers about what, and why."
Alexandra and Andrei were born in Romania. Their parents applied for a visa when she was born, Alexandra says, but she was 10 and Andrei 8 by the time the family made it to Canada. "They just wanted a better life for me and my brother," she said of her parents' desire to move.
Andrei was once a shy boy, she recalls, but that changed when he was a teenager. "He got tall one day," she said, laughing, "And then I wasn't his big sister any more. I was always his little sister after that."
He became outgoing, gregarious and ambitious. Andrei went to high school in Ajax, doing a volunteer trip to Costa Rica, his sister recalled. He liked drawing, camping, longboarding and being outdoors. He attended the University of Waterloo for his undergraduate degree, before setting his sights on a career in medicine. "He wanted to change the world," his sister said.
Brian Dixon, a professor of biology at Waterloo, remembers Mr. Anghel as one of the most motivated students – keen, hard-working and always asking questions. Prof. Dixon eventually wrote a letter of recommendation for Mr. Anghel.
Mr. Anghel wanted to become a cancer researcher. He failed in his first attempt at entering medical school and considered moving to Banff, Alta., to find work but decided to persevere and was successful on the second try. "He was very determined. He was a really nice, personable guy," Prof. Dixon said. "He would have made a great doctor."
His medical studies brought him back to the country his parents had left in search of a better life – Romania. He lived in his grandmother's apartment. His girlfriend, a German citizen the family identified only as Olga, was a fellow student as well. Both had just finished the second year of a six-year program, and were set for five weeks in Bali.
Malaysian Airlines said 298 people died when its jet crashed. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said flatly the plane was "shot down," though the airline says it can't confirm exactly what led to the crash. Mr. Anghel is the only Canadian believed to be among the dead, though the airline has yet to identify four of the victims.
The local MP is Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who visited the family Friday morning. "Andrei represented the best that Ajax and Canada have to offer. He had worked and studied hard to realize his dream of becoming a doctor, and was looking forward to a long-planned holiday in Bali. My wife and I are devastated by his family's loss," Mr. Alexander said in the statement. The Canadian government has pledged to support Ukrainian authorities in the investigation into what Mr. Alexander called an "egregious act of terror."
The international political implications, however, weighed little on the Anghel family, grieving the loss of their son and brother.
"I still feel like I'm going to wake up and it's just going to be a bad nightmare," Ms. Anghel said. "… We're so sheltered from that kind of life here. I would have never thought, in a million years, that this would happen to my brother. And that's because we live here."
As her parents – identified in property records as Sorin and Anca Anghel – grieved inside the family home, Ms. Anghel said she struggled with how to react. "I want to be angry, because in a way anger is a little bit easier to deal with than the hurt, and the just completely feeling broken and lost," she said. "I don't know how to do this without him."
As more information emerges about what happened to MH17 flight, it appears that many children also died though not 80 as earlier reported, and that most of the victims came from the Netherlands, while another contingent, linked to AIDS research, were heading to the International AIDS Conference in Australia. For one unfortunate Australian family, it was the second time this year they lost relatives in an aviation disaster, both times on Malaysia Airlines.
Did 80 children die?
It is unclear how many children were onboard. Some news reports and social media have reported that 80 of the 283 passengers were children. However, a spokeswoman at Malaysia Airlines said that figure did not come from her company. "Eighty is too huge a number," the spokeswoman said when contacted in Kuala Lumpur.
The claim appears to come from Valeriya Lutkovska, the Ukrainian Parliament's Commissioner for Human Rights. Reached in Kiev, a staffer in her office said she had issued a statement stating that 85 children had died. The staffer said that number came from different sources but was not confirmed.
The youngest victims.
There were nevertheless a heartbreaking number of children onboard.
Australian media reported that three siblings from a family in Perth were flying with their grandfather Nick Norris while their parents remained in Amsterdam: 12-year-old Mo; 10-year-old Evie and eight-year-old Otis Maslin.
In the Netherlands, a high school in Breda confirmed that two of its students, Allard and Jeroen Van Keulen, were among the victims. The two teenaged boys were on their way to a vacation in Borneo with their parents.
In television footage, rescuers who arrived at the crash scene could be seen holding up Allard's passport. Another passport shown to the camera belonged to a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Sophie Van Der Meer.
There were also three babies aboard the flight, it emerged after Malaysia Airlines revised the fatalities tally upward to 298 to include three infants, two from Malaysia and one from Indonesia.
Entire families disappeared
Another tragic aspect of the disaster was the number of families whose members were all together on the doomed flight.
The Malaysian news agency Bermana said the victims included an entire family of six. Tambi Jiee, 49, and Ariza Ghazalee, 46, were returning to Kuala Lumpur after Mr. Jiee had spent a stint working for Shell in Kazakhstan. Flying with them were four children ranging in age from 13 to 19.
Ms. Ghazalee's last post on Facebook was a photo of their 15 suitcases waiting to be picked up on a sidewalk curb outside Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.
Dutch media also reported that two families living on the same street in the southern city of Rosmalen were flying together for a holiday in Bali. Rem and Yvonne Trugg family were with their two daughters, Tess and Liv, aged 10 and seven, while Leon and Conny Wels family had a 10-year-old son, Shem.
Anguish at the AIDS conference
One prominent passenger, from the Netherlands, was Joep Lange, a leading HIV researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society. "Perhaps more than any single person in HIV research, Lange rallied support for triple antiretroviral therapy (ART) as the only way to stop HIV," the society said in a statement, alluding to the combined drug therapy that has helped fight the epidemic.
Dr. Lange was heading to the International AIDS Conference that was to begin this weekend in Melbourne.
There were initial fears that up to 100 activists and researchers might have travelled on the Malaysian flight. So far seven delegates were confirmed to be aboard and organizers expect that the final number will be of "an order of magnitude smaller than what has been reported," Chris Beyrer, the incoming president of the International AIDS Society, said.
One family's double tragedy
An Australian family that lost relatives when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing last March was in mourning again.
Kaylene Mann, whose brother Rodney was on flight MH370, lost her step-daughter Marie Rizk and her husband Albert in the MH17 disaster.
"It's just brought everyone, everything back," Greg Burrows, Ms. Mann's brother, told the Associated Press. "It's just ... ripped our guts again."
In March, Ms. Mann's brother Rodney and his wife Mary had disappeared with the Malaysian plane that vanished over the Indian Ocean.
This time, her step-daughter was vacationing in Europe. The Rizks had tried without success to switch to an earlier flight to avoid a lengthy layover.
"They thought if they could change their flight they would do so, but unfortunately that didn't occur," family friend Ken Grech told ABC.
The largest national contingent on the plane came from the Netherlands – 189, according to the latest data released Friday by Malaysia Airlines.
The airline said only four passengers' nationalities remain to be verified.
The latest breakdown states that 44 came from Malaysia, 27 from Australia, 12 from Indonesia, nine from Britain, four from Belgium, four from Germany, three from the Philippines and one each from Canada and New Zealand.
Speaking at Schiphol Airport, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a "black day" for the Netherlands.
"The whole of the Netherlands is in mourning," he said, according to Reuters. "This beautiful summer day has ended in the blackest possible way."
In addition to Dr. Lange, the AIDS researcher, another notable Dutch victim was a lawmaker, Labour Senator Willem Witteveen. He also was a professor of legal and political theory at Tilburg Law School.
With a report from Rick Cash