Worst fears came true with downed MH17

07:09, Jul 21 2014
FLASHBACK: Robert Ayley, 29, from Wellington, with his wife Sharlene on their wedding day. Rob died in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash over the Ukraine.

Invercargill man Bill Patterson's fears turned into a real life nightmare when he heard the news his close friend Rob Ayley had been on a commercial plane shot down over the Ukraine.

Several weeks earlier on his way to the Netherlands to meet up with his mate and fellow Rottweiler breeder, Patterson's flight took him over the same stretch of war-torn eastern Ukraine.

''I flew over the same airspace on my way to Amsterdam and I realised where we were and wondered what the hell are we doing here,'' Patterson said.

Robert Ayley
KILLED IN UKRAINE: MH17 victim Robert Ayley, second from left, a close friend of Invercargill man and fellow Rottweiler breeder Bill Patterson at a dog show in Wellington, in March. The pair are with judge Louise Wallace, far left, and Patterson’s wife Wiki Te Tau and a young champion dog.

''I knew exactly what was going on down on the ground in that part of the world. I knew it wasn't the best place to be. I knew who was fighting who and what sort of armoury they had.''

A man who loved flying, Patterson said he felt uneasy. 

''I really thought when I was on that plane going over [Ukraine] well here we go. I wouldn't be surprised to see a surface to air missile around this area.''


Patterson looked out his window to see the disputed territory in a far flung corner of the world beneath him.

''I was quite conscious of that.''

However, dozens of commercial carriers flew hundreds of times in the area where the plane was shot down in the last week.

Patterson made it to Amsterdam and met up with Ayley for a trip to visit Rottweiler breeders across Europe and eastern Europe.

The pair covered 10,000km in a car together driving through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Croatia and Serbia where they spent time with a Serbian family.   

The return drive took them back through Hungry and the Czech Republic.

''Rob loved Eastern Europe and it's people. A lot of them don't have much but they share what they do have,'' Patterson said.

A separate booking also meant separate flights home for the friends. A phone call from his wife Wiki Te Tau as he stepped off his flight in Christchurch on Friday alerted Patterson to the news that had brought his fears of flying over Ukraine airspace to life.

It had also shocked the world.

Robert Ayley, 29, of Otaki, was among the 298 passengers and crew who died when the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky by a missile over Ukraine on Friday.

The bodies of the dead, Patterson's friend amongst them, lay scattered, torn and charred in a sunflower field in the middle of a war zone.

''I got a text from Rob while I was on a stop over in Singapore. He was just about to get on his flight. He told me what a great trip it had been and he was looking forward to getting home to his family,'' Patterson said.

''He said he was a little bit nervous getting on the plane. He wasn't that comfortable a flyer.''

The ripples from the tragedy have travelled across the globe and four days after Flight MH17 was downed, what had happened was ''still sinking'' in, Patterson said.

''It's hard especially when you see on TV the bodies lying around. You hope his [Rob's] and all the others have been secured,'' he said.

Patterson was back amongst his dogs yesterday.

''I needed to get back into my work. Though I keep expecting the phone to ring and it be Rob on the other end,'' he said.   

''We spoke on the phone almost everyday. Sometimes two or three times a day depending on what was going on.''

Ayley's goal was to breed some the best Rottweilers in this part of the world and get a business going so he could sell his dogs in other parts of the world, Patterson said.

Patterson is not sure who sanctioned Flight MH17 and dozens of other commercial flights to fly over the Ukraine but he believes it was the wrong call.

''I work in a job where we take kids on camp and adventure activities. We always do a risk analysis. To me, the flight path stood out like a sore thumb,'' he said.

''Here we are flying over a war zone, in my job we would never be able to put peoples live at risk in that type of situation. I think there should have been tighter restrictions personally.''

The first assessments to keep the flight path open may have been done before the rebels had capabilities to launch missiles. But the situation on the ground was very fluid.

''New surface to air missiles had been moved into the area. So obviously their capabilities had increased overnight,'' Patterson said.

There was no doubt in his mind Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was downed by rebels but he did not believe they knew it was a commercial flight, Patterson said.

''I personally don't think they shot it down on purpose. Not a civilian aircraft. It's been a mistake. They thought it's been a Ukraine military plane. But they should have identified their target.''

Patterson said he had lost a great friend but his main thoughts were for Ayley's young family and wife along with his mum and dad. 

''People say to me sorry for your loss. It is a loss of a treasured friendship but for Rob's family, it's a loss of a father, a husband and a son.''

The Southland Times