Twelve months on from the MH17 air disaster that rocked the world, the family of Glenn Thomas reflects on the most difficult year of their lives. PAUL BERENTZEN speaks to them about his legacy and their quest for answers.
One year ago, this treasured family heirloom was with Blackpool man Glenn Thomas as he boarded the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
When the plane was shot down, killing all 298 people on board, his prized ring – passed down from his mother when she died – was feared lost in the wreckage.
But today, as Glenn’s family prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shocked the world, it sits on the little finger of his nephew Jordan Withers.
The ring was in a box of personal effects that made it back to the UK just a few weeks ago, much to the family’s relief.
Now passed down to the third generation, it is just one of the extraordinary ways Glenn’s legacy lives on.
Your first Christmas, first birthday and first anniversary of the death are all big hurdles when you lose somebody
Jordan, 23, said: “We have got the ring back, which was the biggest thing.
“That was impossible to get off my uncle’s finger when he was alive.”
Although no item, however much sentimental value it holds, can replace the loss of a human life, it has helped ease some of the pain.
Tracey Withers, Glenn’s twin sister said: “It was my mum’s wedding ring – it has been in the family since 1953, the year of the Queen’s coronation.
“She passed away 28 years ago and Glenn has had it since then.”
Now, as the world remembers all those who lost their lives as their plane came down over war-torn Ukraine, Glenn’s family want to remember him for the kind-hearted man he was – not the crash victim he became.
“This is a time to reflect on what happened and celebrate his life,” said Jordan.
“Your first Christmas, first birthday and first anniversary of the death are all big hurdles when you lose somebody.
“But when you think about it, if someone was going to lose their life early, he would be the one – he had done everything already.”
He was just a couple of months from his 50th birthday when his life was cut short but Glenn had gone from local newspaper reporter on the Fylde coast to working for the World Health Organisation in Geneva, travelling the world in the process.
“He fitted everything into those 49 years,” added Tracey.
“I have got so many books of condolences, pages and pages from people at the BBC, in the royal family, all over.
“Not one person has got a bad word to say.”
His influence lives on in the thousands of pounds raised for charity in his name following his funeral in October.
His humanitarian work will be honoured at a memorial service at Westminster Abbey next month.
A new book for people diagnosed with AIDS – Glenn was on his way to a conference on the same topic when he died – has been dedicated to him. Its release date - today – is no coincidence.
Tracey said: “The author was someone he met in a bar in Geneva.
“There’s about four pages of tribute to him at the beginning of the book.
“Glenn had time for everybody, not just himself.
“He once gave away his air miles to someone so she could travel to see her family.”
Tonight the family will let off balloons in memory of those killed a year ago, joined by Glenn’s friends and acquaintances.
Tomorrow will be a quiet occasion for family to be together and remember him.
But while they are slowly coming to terms with this tragedy, they are still waiting for answers.
They say they are “lucky” to have had Glenn’s body and personal effects returned to them. Thousands of body parts were still being shipped back to grieving families as recently as April.
But as governments continue to investigate who was behind the horrific act, which has been widely blamed on pro-Russian separatists, there are fears this could drag on for years.
Glenn’s family say they have relied on contacts in the Netherlands, where most of the victims were from, to stay informed about developments. They say this could become another Lockerbie, where families were still waiting for answers more than a decade later.
“It’s in the news every single week in Holland,” Tracey said. “Here, we don’t hear anything for months.
“A lot of the time, we hear things from people over there.”
Families in the Netherlands, she said, have pages of information that was never shared with them.
“They had a list of every passenger with details about them, what seat they were in,” she added.
“Imagine my surprise when I found out Glenn was in seat 3G.”
A report is due out in October that they hope will shed some light on what happened. It is not expected to point blame at anyone but it is a start, they say.
Jordan said: “It is going to be a long, drawn out process.
“To find justice, we have got to be willing to wait.”
They are reasonable in their expectations – but they refuse to be forgotten.
He added: “Ultimately, almost 300 innocent people have lost their lives.
“They were caught up in something they should never have been caught up in and now we have been dragged into it as well.”
And it is not just the families of the dead who have been left scarred by the tragedy.
Tracey said: “You don’t think about the people who are there, in Ukraine. They are going through trauma too. People were falling out of the sky. They have their own grief.”
Jordan added: “I spoke to a man who was the first on the scene there. He said he cannot unsee what he saw that day.”
But in time, he said he wants to visit the crash site for himself to help get some closure.
He said: “If there’s going to be a memorial to MH17, it should be there.”