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A kiss, a prayer: The last hours of MH17's victims

By Kristen Gelineau

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, July 23 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

That dream prompted Ayley to book a trip to Europe with his friend Bill Patterson, a kennel owner. Ayley's goal: to look at Rottweilers and hopefully bring back breeding dogs to New Zealand.

The duo spent a month driving all over Europe, visiting kennels and grabbing a coffee, beer or meal with the owners. They delighted in speeding along the German autobahns in the small Peugeot they'd rented.

Finally, it was time to come home. On Wednesday night, Ayley sent his mother an email:

"It's been a long, long journey. We've seen the world's greatest Rottweilers, we have established contacts, and made life-long friends, but now I'm just ready to come home. I hope all is well, if we don't talk before hand, I will see you on Saturday. Lots of Love Rob"

Flight attendant Sanjid Singh was looking forward to getting home, too. He hadn't originally been scheduled for Flight 17, but he wanted to get back to Malaysia a day early to visit his parents in northern Penang state. So he asked a colleague to switch shifts.

Only five months ago, a similar last-minute switch had saved his family. His wife, also a flight attendant, had agreed to swap assignments with a colleague who wanted to be on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane vanished en route to Beijing.

The near-miss rattled Singh's parents, who fretted about the pair continuing to fly. But Singh was pragmatic. "If I am fated to die, I will die," he said. "You have to accept it."

On Wednesday, he called his mother and told her the good news — he'd nabbed a spot on Flight 17 and would be there on Friday. Take care of yourself, he told his mother.

After they hung up, she said a prayer for Singh, the way she always did.

Family was also the reason Irene Gunawan had booked a seat on Flight 17.

She was headed to an annual family reunion in the Philippines: a major event held at a resort that would include specially-designed shirts, drinking, singing and dancing. And 53-year-old Gunawan would — as always — be the star.

Gunawan was the light and laughter of her clan. The fifth of six children, the bubbly, music-loving girl had wanted to see the world outside her sleepy rural village. After high school, she moved to Japan to sing and drum in a band. There, she met Budy, a fellow band member.

They toured Europe together, playing music and eventually falling in love. They married and settled in the Netherlands, where she gave birth to Daryll and Sheryll, now 19 and 14. Gunawan took up office work, and sent money to her family in the Philippines. Budy worked as a supervisor at Malaysia Airlines in Amsterdam.

Gunawan flew back occasionally to the family's neighborhood, called "Heaven," in the town of Pagbilao, outside Manila. At reunions, she belted out songs by Norah Jones and Diana Ross. When neighbors heard the music, they knew she was in town.

This year, the couple and their two children were flying to Pagbilao, and Daryll was bringing his DJ equipment. They'd planned to leave earlier, but a typhoon was lashing the Philippines, so they delayed their trip until it subsided.

By chance, they nabbed seats on Flight 17.

Albert and Maree Rizk weren't supposed to be on that flight either.

Every year, the fun-loving 50-somethings from Melbourne, Australia, went on a month-long vacation with friends. They had hopscotched the globe, from Thailand to Fiji to Europe.

This time, the Rizks had nearly skipped the trip due to family commitments. Family came first for Albert, a real estate agent, and Maree, parents of two and beloved fixtures in their community.

A change of plans freed them up to join their friends, Ross and Sue Campbell, but they weren't able to snag a seat on the Campbells' return flight. So they bought tickets for the same route, a day later: Flight 17.

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