NZ's MH17 victims mourned

02:53, Jul 20 2014
Benoit Chardome
Benoit Chardome

Nearly three days on from the Flight MH17 disaster, the ripples of grief have reached New Zealand shores as the stories behind victims of the fatal flight come to light.


New Zealander Mary Menke was coming home from an annual holiday to Europe when she and 297 others died on board the Malaysia Airline flight.

Mary Menke
Mary Menke

A mother to three adult children, Mary was killed alongside her husband Gerry, as they returned to their home in the small fishing village of Mallacoota, near Melbourne.

The pair ran an innovative abalone pearl producing company, Mallacoota Abalone Pearls Australia, and Mary, who had family living in the South Island, including near Christchurch, also ran the local hairdresser and beauty salon with daughter, Anna.

The couple were recognised by the community last year when MAPA Pearls picked up the Judge's Special Award in the 2013 East Gippsland Business Awards.


Rob Ayley
Rob Ayley, with wife Sharlene.

The award followed years of hard work for Gerry Menke, an abalone diver with decades of experience.

"Gerry and Mary were a wonderful couple and were delighted with the win, which cemented in their minds that what had begun as Gerry's hobby had turned into a unique and burgeoning business," Executive officer of Business and Tourism East Gippsland Jeanette Seignior said.

"But it was far more than that. The Menkes were committed to giving back to the community and this year had committed to sponsoring the business awards, which they felt had given them so much."

They had recently filmed a segment for the BBC program, Coast, which focused on the process of culturing abalone pearls, perfected by Gerry over many years.

Friend Mark Touzeau, remembered Mary as a "lovely person" who "was always very chatty, talkative and easy to get along with. She was a lovely person. They were great people."

He said the Menkes had travelled to New Zealand earlier this year to spend time with her relatives.


The international tragedy reached the quiet Wellington suburb of Tawa yesterday, where Rob Ayley's mother Wendie said his family did not expect to travel to the crash site.

The family of the British-born Kiwi who died aboard MH17 spent a desperate day hoping he had somehow missed the fatal flight.

Rob, 29, and his widow Sharlene had two boys, Seth, 4, and Taylor, 2, and the family home is on the Kapiti Coast. His parents, Jonn and Wendie, live in Tawa.

"He didn't die on the ground among the wreckage, he died in the sky. And it's in the sky that we'll think of him."

Wendie Ayley said Sharlene quickly matched the flight details to her husband's travel plans when she heard about the crash.

Malaysia Airlines were able to confirm he was booked on the flight, but were initially unable to say if he had taken his seat.

"We spent the day hoping he hadn't boarded that flight."

Eventually, however, the awful news came through.

Wendie described her son as generous and loving.

"He wasn't a man of money, but he'd give you the holes from his pockets."

In a statement, his family remembered a man they described as "passionate about life".

He overcame Asperger's syndrome - a form of autism - to become a dedicated family man.

"[Rob] found in his boys two little people he could love, understand and trust. When they cried they were sad, when they laughed they were happy and when they hugged it was because they loved him.

"He struggled to interpret body language and innuendo but he could understand his boys."

Sharlene and Rob were "soulmates".

"She changed his life and he changed hers. She held his heart and he held hers. Rob will live forever in his family."

After leaving school at 16, he had returned to education later in life and was studying chemical engineering.

He had been away for a month visiting Rottweiler breeders in Europe, and on the last day of his trip he emailed his family to say how much he was looking forward to coming home.

"It's been a long, long journey," he wrote. "We've seen the world's greatest rottweilers, we have established contacts and made lifelong friends, but now I'm just ready to come home. I hope all is well, if we don't talk beforehand, I will see you on Saturday."


A former Queenstown man is understood to be among those killed in the MH17 tragedy.

Benoit Chardome, a restaurateur who lived in Queenstown before moving to Bali six years ago, was on the Malaysian Airlines flight.

Chardome was originally from Belgium, but spent several years in Queenstown, where he owned the Bathhouse and Pasta Pasta Cucina restaurants.