MH17: 'We take comfort that they were together'

Kiwi woman and ‘man of her dreams’ were returning from birthday in France.

Mary and Garry Menke.
Mary and Garry Menke.

The sole New Zealand citizen on board the ill-fated MH17 flight has been remembered as a "warm, creative and generous" person.

Mary Menke, 65, and her Dutch-born husband Gerry were returning to their home in Australia after celebrating his 70th birthday with family and friends in the south of France.

Gallery: The faces behind the tragedy of flight MH17

The pair were two of the 298 people killed when the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine on Friday, reportedly by Russian-backed separatists.

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Mary, who moved to Australia in her mid-20s, and her husband were pioneers in the seafood industry in their adopted home of Mallacoota, Victoria.

They left behind four children Paul, Sara, Brett and Anna. In a statement, the family said they would be "sorely missed".

"We take comfort in the fact they were together and that's how they would have wanted it to be."

It is understood Mary's father and sister live in New Zealand.

Watch: MH17: Officials fear MH17 site tampered by rebels

Mary was a talented piano player, taught music at the local high school, and supported Gerry's business ventures. "She was a larger-than-life character ... warm, creative and generous," the Menke family said.

Gerry, a paua diver with more than 30 years experience, helped establish Victoria's burgeoning abalone pearl aquaculture business. He was reportedly inspired to start the business after a visit to a New Zealand enterprise.

A relative last night told the Herald on Sunday from Australia that Mary had moved to Australia in 1971, where she "met the man of her dreams".

Watch: MH17: Pro-Russian rebels refusing to hand over crash evidence: Kiev

Video

And last night, as the world's anger turned on Ukraine and Russia, fresh details emerged of other Kiwi connections to the ill-fated flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Rob Ayley, 29, from Otaki, was on his way home from a month-long trip to Europe. He is survived by wife Sharlene and sons, Seth, 4, and Taylor, 2.

Dutch couple Hendrik-Jan "Henk" Tournier and Ineke Westerveld were on their way to New Zealand to visit Henk's Taupo-based daughter, Nanda Bright, and their two grandsons, aged 12 and 9.


Flames amongst the wreckage of the jet. Photo / AFP

Popular former Auckland and Queenstown restaurateur Benoit Chardome was also on board. The Dutchman lived in New Zealand for more than 10 years before moving to Bali six years ago. He was maitre d' at well-known Parnell restaurant Iguacu for two years, before buying two Queenstown eateries.

Two Newcastle United fans following their team to New Zealand for the English Premier League club's first tour here were killed, and will be honoured at games played in Dunedin and Wellington this week.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities last night accused Russian rebels of removing bodies and tampering with evidence at the crash site. Armed pro-Russian rebels earlier stood guard and fired warning shots at international inspectors.


A piece of the plane lies in the grass as a group of Ukrainian coal miners search the crash site. Photo / AP

Bodies and debris are strewn across a 10km radius near Grabovo, around 50km from the Russian border.

Internationally mediated talks "concluded with an agreement to set up a 20km security zone so Ukraine could fulfil the most important thing - identify the bodies and hand them over to relatives," Ukrainian Security Service head Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said last night.

It remained unclear whether the crucial black boxes were still at the site. Amid confusion over the whereabouts of the flight recorders, Russian authorities had to deny having any plans to spirit them away.

That assurance failed to stop pressure on Moscow. President Barack Obama described the deaths of nearly 300 people as an "outrage", as he issued a stark warning to Vladimir Putin for supporting the separatists who are thought to have fired the surface-to-air missile which brought down the aircraft.

Putin was accused of avoiding phone calls from world leaders.

The UN Security Council in New York yesterday passed a resolution calling for a "full, thorough and independent international investigation". Dutch Ambassador to the UN Karel van Oosterom told the council's emergency meeting: "This is a dark hour in our national history. We are a nation in shock."

Foreign Minister Murray McCully joined the voices calling for a credible inquiry. The disaster comes just four months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from the skies with 239 people on board, including Kiwis Paul Weeks and Ximin Wang.

• Reporting team: Kirsty Wynn, Brendan Manning, Amy Maas, Matthew Theunissen

- Herald on Sunday

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