AMSTERDAM – A Dutch cyclist, riding for the Terrengganu team in Malaysia, escaped a Malaysia Airlines plane crash. Twice.
According to Maarten de Jonge’s website, the 29-year-old, born in the Dutch town of Oldenzaal, was planning to travel back to Kuala Lumpur on Flight MH17 from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Thursday after visiting his home country to participate in national championships.
He decided to swap flights as traveling via Frankfurt Sunday would save him some money, he told local broadcaster RTV Oost.
That decision meant he was not among 298 people, the majority of whom were Dutch citizens, killed as the jetliner was downed over Ukraine.
Months earlier, in March, he took another Malaysia Airlines flight out of Kuala Lumpur, at the same time and in the same direction as a Boeing 777 wide-body airliner taking off for Beijing. That plane has been missing without a trace ever since, with no debris found despite the longest search mission in civil aviation history.
“I could have taken that one just as easily,” de Jonge said in an interview with RTV Oost. “It’s inconceivable. I am very sorry for the passengers and their families, yet I am very pleased I’m unharmed.”
De Jonge didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. In a statement on his website on Friday he said he was “overwhelmed” by the responses and requests he has received since posting a tweet “Had I departed today, then . . . ” He declined to comment further out of respect for the victims and their next of kin, according to the statement.
The Malaysian plane from Schiphol was probably shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by rebels from insurgent-held territory in eastern Ukraine, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the Security Council in New York. The U.S. cannot rule out the possibility of Russian assistance to the separatists, she said.
De Jonge finished in 35th place in the Dutch cycling championship on June 30, according to his website. He is still planning to fly back to Malaysia on Sunday, on a Malaysia Airlines flight via Frankfurt, he said.