Eindhoven resident Anton Kotte lost his son Oscar, daughter-in-law Miranda and grandson Remco Kotte in the MH17 air disaster on 17 July, 2014. Now, more than eight years later, the years-long search for exactly what happened that fateful day is coming to a provisional end. On Thursday, the judge will deliver his verdict.
Father Anton is there, son Edgar will watch it from a distance. Yet they both are filled with anticipation. “It’s the first mile stone, but it’s never finished”, Edgar says.
Eight years later. Eight years older. That may be what touches Anton Kotte’s heart the most. Eight years he has missed from his son, daughter-in-law and grandson. “When you think of all they could have experienced… It was all taken away from them and I still think that’s one of the most terrible things”.
Anton bit into the file completely from the first moment. It may have kept him going, he admits. He joined the board of the next-of-kin foundation, Stichting Vliegramp (flight disaster foundation) MH17. “Doing something for the collective”. Was he thus trying to turn that enormous powerlessness into power? “That could well be the case”.
Whether it helped him is the question. “Yes and no,” Anton says cautiously. “It seems like I have two lives side by side. Life as a father who lost three children, but also life as a foundation board member. That conflicts at times”.
For example, he remembers how, from a room in Amsterdam, they could follow the visit of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to the hangar in Gilze-Rijen, where the crashed plane stood. The plane wreckage Anton had seen before, but not like this. Full frame. “It came in like thunder. It stood differently. The nose of the plane almost came out of the picture, right towards you. Then I walked away for a moment. I just couldn’t look at it anymore”.
His son Edgar has worried about his father more than once. “He has to try to accept his own grief and at the same time it takes a lot of energy for him to arrange everything for the foundation. I have regularly thought: are you taking care of yourself?”
They are different, father and son. Edgar just couldn’t get bogged down in the whole story. “I won’t get them back with it. I said from minute one: I want to engage in things from which I get positive energy. I’d rather think back to the positive memories with the three of them”.
In that respect, Edgar is more like his mother Hilda. She also closed herself off more from what had been. She passed away in November 2019. Of a broken heart. “She was never able to accept it. For her, the fun of life was gone”, Edgar softly says.
Edgar could. In his own way. For example, he has never been to the memorial in Vijfhuizen. He chooses his own path on the difficult days. Birthdays, 17 July . “My wife also says: do what makes you feel good. I often go for a bike ride or walk the dog then. Clear my head”.
In the beginning I acted differently. I was present at every plane arriving at Eindhoven Airport with mortal remains. “Then I was exhausted the day after and it took a long time for the energy to return. I still sometimes feel like my battery never fully charged again”.
The loss remains great. The judge’s ruling cannot change that, but it is important. Anton: “I am glad the verdict is coming. Important for the establishment of truth and justice. Apart from what awaits the suspects, I hope the judge will say something about Russia’s role. Then we as a foundation can keep the story on the agenda, because it is never finished”.
Edgar understands that, but cannot muster the energy to do so. “For me it’s my brother, for him it’s his son we lost. I can’t imagine how hard that is. It’s so unnatural. In that sense, I understand my father’s drive. This is the only thing he can still do for them”.
The judge will rule on Thursday. The prosecution is demanding a life sentence for the four suspects who have been identified.
Translated by: Bob