The grief-stricken family of a Blackpool man killed after his plane was shot down today pleaded for his body to be recovered – as they revealed how they had clung to the desperate hope he may have missed the fatal flight.
Glenn Thomas, 49, was among 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight who died after it crashed in war-torn Ukraine.
Now his twin sister Tracey Withers has called on armed pro-Russian militia surrounding the downed jet to let officials on to the site to carry out recovery work, amid growing reports of the bodies of the dead being looted.
Speaking to The Gazette at the family home in Freemantle Avenue, South Shore, Tracey said: “It is a dangerous area and obviously we don’t want any more people to get hurt or anything bad to happen. We just want them to show some compassion and let people in to try and get the bodies back and the personal possessions.
“We’re just hoping we’ve got personal possessions that can be brought back, anything that was Glenn’s - even a pen, a letter, a book – anything that resembles what Glenn would have had.”
Her son Jordan, 22, Mr Thomas’ nephew, added: “It’s all speculation that people have been looting bodies and stealing credit cards from the bodies.
“We’re just hoping it’ll get resolved as soon as possible and as peacefully as possible so we can get the bodies back to our families and we can give them the send off they deserve.”
Glenn, originally from Molyneux Drive, South Shore, and who worked as a press officer for the World Health Organisation (WHO), had been travelling to Australia for a conference on AIDS from his home in Geneva when the tragedy happened.
Despite having lived in Switzerland for around 10 years the former Highfield High School pupil returned to the Fylde coast several times a year and was in daily contact with his family.
The jet-setting former journalist had also lived in London, the USA, and Dijon, in France, since leaving the resort after finishing school.
He had a passion for travel, regularly flying all over the world, yet his lack of punctuality at airports was a running joke among relatives to the extent where they had even hoped it may have saved him from boarding flight MH17.
Jordan said: “He was so laid back he used to sleep through (while waiting for planes).
“He had a bit of a habit of doing that, I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve ran for a plane with him.
“For a little while we thought he might not have got on it.”
Tracey’s husband Mark, 50, added: “We were just clinging to hope, but the evidence was so strong we knew deep down he was on the plane.”
Mark, Tracey and 17-year-old daughter Brittany had been on holiday in Spain when the news of the crash broke – leaving Jordan, who was at home, to try and find out what had happened to his uncle.
Tragically, Mr Thomas had sent a final text to his family on Thursday saying: “Safe travels! Heading to Oz now out of Amsterdam.”
The family, who arrived back at Blackpool Airport on Saturday after being helped by Jet 2 to get a flight home, have since been offered assistance by the Foreign Office.
The World Health Organisation has also said it will pay for the family to travel to Ukraine.
The four hope to fly out later this week, but they do not yet know when this will be possible.
They also plan to visit Mr Thomas’ long-term partner Claudio, a 50-year-old Brazilian who works for Coutts Bank in Geneva.
Tracey said: “He needs our support and wants us to get over there, he’s just lost.
“He just keeps saying ‘keep strong and be here soon, I need you’. We are a close family and we’re close to him.”
Jordan had previously spent six months in Switzerland with Mr Thomas and Claudio while working as an intern at the WHO.
He said: “We’ve had a lot of tributes from WHO and they held a minute’s silence for him, they’ve been absolutely fantastic.
“The Foreign Office have been really good keeping in contact with us too.”
Mr Thomas went joined the civil service after leaving Blackpool Sixth Form.
He went to night school where he got his A-Levels before studying economics at Bangor University.
From there he got his first job in journalism at The Citizen in St Annes.
He went on to work for Granada and the BBC, as well as writing for national newspapers. The last time the family saw him in person was at the funeral of his and Tracey’s father, who died 13 weeks ago.
However Mr Thomas, who was a notoriously generous gift giver, had bought the four of them iPads last Christmas to make it easier for them to keep in touch every day.
Tracey said: “He was a wonderful brother who cared for so many people and touched so many lives.”
Respect and a thorough investigation are vital
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the dignity and respect of the victims of flight MH17 was a priority for the Government.
It comes as international concern grows at the row of access to the crash site – a scene one investigator has described as “the world’s biggest crime scene.”
While the first few bodies have been collected by Ukrainian investigators, it has been reported 38 were removed from the scene by separatists and taken to the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that looters have targeted the site.
Mr Hammond said: “Our focus now is on securing the site so there is a proper international investigation to identify the cause and the perpetrators and bring them to justice and making sure the victims are dealt with proper dignity and respect.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron, last night, revealed he had told Vladimir Putin he must ensure access to the MH17 crash site so victims of the disaster can hold proper funerals for their loved ones.
The Prime Minister spoke to the Russian president for the first time since MH17 was brought down.
Mr Cameron said he had “made clear” his demands in the phone call which came as the EU looked set to impose tougher sanctions on Russia.