Kiwi passenger's parents hold on to hope

A Ukrainian national flag flies at half-mast near other European flags outside the headquarters...
A Ukrainian national flag flies at half-mast near other European flags outside the headquarters of Eurocontrol, Europe's air traffic regulator, in Brussels. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
The family of a New Zealand man booked to fly home on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were gathered together in Wellington last night.

Robert Ayley, 27, was flying to New Zealand from Amsterdam on MH17, which was shot down over pro-Russian territory in eastern Ukraine. The Boeing 777-200 is believed to have been hit by a surface-to-air missile, leaving no survivors among the 298 passengers and crew.

Last night his friend Bill Patterson, who had been travelling with him but took a different flight home, said he was shaken. "I just spent 30 days with my mate and now he's not here."

Otaki man Mr Ayley, a father of two young children, had been travelling to look at Rottweiler dogs, which he imports and breeds.

Originally from Guildford in the United Kingdom, he was understood to be travelling on a British passport.

Yesterday Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said a British citizen who lived in New Zealand was on the fatal flight.

A New Zealand woman who was living in Australia had also been killed, along with her Dutch husband. Mr McCully said other passengers with New Zealand connections may have been on board.

At home in Invercargill last night, Mr Patterson, 63, was too shaken up to speak about his friend.

"I'm still coming to terms with things," he said. He said he was in "constant contact" with the Ayley family in Wellington.

Mr Patterson's wife Wiki Te Tau said the pair had done a "road trip" from Amsterdam to Serbia, seeing friends they knew from the Rottweiler breeding community.

Mr Ayley, his brother and his parents Wendy and John had emigrated from Guildford in the United Kingdom but were now all New Zealand residents, Mrs Te Tau said.

He had two boys under the age of five with his wife Sharlene, who were now staying with Mr Ayley's parents in Tawa.

Mrs Te Tau said Mr Ayley's mother called her this morning to see if the reports were true.

"His parents have rung up Malaysia Airlines and they can't tell them anything," she said.

"They've posted on social media saying 'please don't ring' -- they sort of need the phone left alone basically.

"Rob's wife has posted on their social media page that he was on the flight."

Yesterday morning Mr Ayley's parents had been holding out hope that he missed his flight, Mrs Te Tau said.

"His parents are really optimistic that he's young, he's silly, he got drunk and didn't make the flight."

Yesterday morning Wendy Ayley told APNZ was still no confirmation he was on board. "All we know is that he was booked on it," she said.

"Don't feel for me because we have every expectation that our son will be getting off a plane in Wellington tomorrow afternoon as scheduled."

Yesterday afternoon police officers visited the family's home a short time before Mr McCully confirmed the two New Zealand-linked deaths.

Later a tearful family member said they did not wish to speak to media.

Mike Bullot, husband of Masterchef winner Chelsea Winter, was close to being bumped off an earlier Malaysian flight from Amsterdam. He posted on Facebook that it was a "good day to be alive".

"Arriving at checkin for flight MH0017 on the 16th July being told flight was overbooked and I'm placed on standby ... Standing at gate with some 20-30 other people hoping for a seat and boarding pass. I get mine a few mins before gate closes. "Wondering how many of those behind me in line were pushed back a day...".

The disaster comes just five months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, with 239 people on board. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said it was a tragic day in what had already been a tragic year for the country.

Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was on board MH370, said she was "absolutely floored" when she heard another Malaysia Airlines flight had ended in tragedy.

"I just can't believe it's happened again. And the same airline. It just doesn't make sense to me."

She called on the relevant governments, authorities and the airline to "put appearances aside and just remember that these are people's loved ones, and they get all the help and support they need through this".

- Brendan Manning and Kurt Bayer of APNZ

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