LONDON — Six months ago, Hans de Borst was begging for anything — even a sock — from his daughter’s body. All he ever got was her passport and boarding pass.
The last keepsakes of 17-year-old Elsemiek are the very items that allowed her to board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 — the journey that ended her life.
“If only these documents could talk,” the Dutchman told NBC News.
Elsemiek, her half-brother, mother and stepfather were all on board the Boeing 777 when it crashed in rebel-held territory in Ukraine on July 17.
In the half-year since, families of the 298 on board are still waiting for answers. Many bodies still have not been recovered or identified.
U.S. intelligence suggests the flight was shot down by pro-Russian rebels, but in its preliminary report the Dutch Safety Board said only that a number of objects “pierced the plane at a high velocity.” Their full report on the cause of the crash is expected in June or July. Meanwhile, the criminal investigation into who is responsible has no timetable.
De Borst said in an email that the airline has paid out $61,500 per victim to families. “It feels very weird, like a payment to keep your mouth shut,” he said, adding that the money does not prevent relatives from future litigation.
Bodies of the victims were strewn across an open field, some still strapped to their seats. It took days for investigators to reach the crash site and weeks for the remains to be recovered and repatriated.
Three victims remain unaccounted for, though a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice said pieces of wreckage are still being examined. Officials say they're confident some part of their remains will eventually be found.
Elsemiek was among the first to be identified, after three weeks, through dental records and a ring.
“I didn’t want to see her,” de Borst said, choosing instead to remember his daughter as she was in a photograph in which she is smiling and walking barefoot along a beach. He also didn't want her ring returned.
The memorial of flowers and candles which at one point threatened to overwhelm Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is long gone. But on a mountain in Austria, where de Borst and his daughter spent many vacations, there is a bench with a small silver plaque engraved with Elsemiek's name and a message: “I love you to the moon and back! XXX Dad XXX.”