The Rizks and the Campbells had become more like family than friends since Sue and Maree met at a mother's group when their now-grown children were babies. They had a ball traveling through Italy, Switzerland and Germany. It felt like they'd laughed for a solid month. Together, they realized a lifelong goal: climbing to the top of the Klein Matterhorn in Switzerland.
On Tuesday night, the four gathered at an Italian restaurant for a final meal. They reminisced about their latest adventure — one of their best — and made plans for a reunion back in Australia. On Saturday, they would get together to feast on the delicious Dutch cheese they'd bought, drink wine and pore over their vacation photos.
The four headed back to the hotel, exchanged hugs and retired to their rooms.
Some friends were surprised that the Rizks were willing to fly Malaysia Airlines, after the disappearance of Flight 370. Maree's stepmother, Kaylene Mann, had lost her brother and sister-in-law in the disaster.
Albert's buddy of 30 years, Jack Medcraft, got in a friendly dig: Why Malaysia Airlines?
"Lightning never strikes twice," Albert replied.
They burst out laughing. The nonchalant explanation had a double meaning.
Albert's house had been struck by lightning last year.
Thursday, July 17, dawned warm and sunny in Amsterdam.
Before leaving his house for Schiphol Airport, Grootscholten called Christine and the children for one last Skype chat. He was so excited, he began to dance.
"Daddy's flying to see you!" he told the kids. "We will be together forever!"
Meanwhile, Ayley was struggling. Patterson, his Rottweiler business partner, had flown out Wednesday, so he had to get himself to the airport — and it was not going well. "Missed the airport bus," he wrote to his wife on Facebook. "Waiting for the next one."
Back in Malaysia, Singh's excited parents awaited their flight attendant son's arrival. His mother had prepared his favorite dishes — spicy prawns, blue crab curry, roast pork and vegetables.
Irene Gunawan couldn't wait to get home to Heaven to see her own family. She asked her sister-in-law to make that syrupy custard cake she loved. Gunawan's daughter was eager to stop at Jollibee, a popular burger chain.
Samira Calehr and her friend Aan had ushered her sons onto the train to the airport. They were joking and laughing, excited to spend time with their grandmother in the mountains of Bali. Shaka, 19, had just finished his first year of college, where he was studying textile engineering, and promised to keep an eye on Miguel. Their other brother, Mika, 16, hadn't been able to get a seat on Flight 17 and would travel to Bali the next day.
At the check-in counter, Calehr fussed over her boys' luggage. Shaka, meanwhile, realized he'd forgotten to pack socks. Calehr promised to buy him some and send them along with Mika.
Finally, they were outside customs. The boys hugged Calehr goodbye and walked toward passport control. Suddenly, Miguel whirled around and ran back, throwing his arms around his mother.
"Mama, I'm going to miss you," he said. "What will happen if the airplane crashes?"
What was this all about? she wondered.
"Don't say that," she said, squeezing him. "Everything will be OK."
Shaka tried to reassure them both. "I will take care of him," he said to his mom. "He's my baby."
She watched the two boys walk away. But Miguel kept looking back at his mother. His big brown eyes looked sad.
Then he vanished from view.
They all converged at Gate G3.
Singh and his fellow flight attendants finished their preparations. The announcement finally rang out. It was time to board.
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