A year on from the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, it is still not known what exactly happened or who caused the plane that was carrying 298 people, including two men from the North East, to crash.

Liam Sweeney, 28, from Newcastle, and John Alder, from Gateshead, were travelling on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, killing all 298 people on board.

John Alder Credit: Family photo

The two avid Newcastle United fans, who were among nine British nationals on board the Boeing 777, were en route to New Zealand to support their team in two pre-season matches.

John Alder, 63, had reportedly missed only one Newcastle game since 1973.

Investigators found the plane departed from Amsterdam at 12.31pm local time, on 17th July, and was due to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 06:10am local time. The plane disappeared from radar at 03.20pm local time, when it was around 50km from the Ukraine-Russia border.

Ukrainian officials initially claimed the plane had been shot down by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists. Russia, meanwhile, claimed the Ukrainian government was responsible. The Ukranian Prime Minister said no distress call had been made before the plane went down. The plane had been flying 1,000ft above a no-fly zone.

Pro-Russian rebels took control of the area surrounding the wreckage on the ground. The two black-box data recorders were handed over to investigators. Data from the black boxes showed that everything was normal until the recording stopped abruptly.

In the days after the crash, tributes flooded in for the two men from Tyneside.

“The loss of John and Liam is truly devastating news. Both men were dedicated supporters of our Club and were known to thousands of fans and staff alike. On behalf of everyone at Newcastle United we send our deepest condolences to John and Liam's families and friends.”

Lee Charnley, Newcastle United Managing Director

"Both were well known to away followers, particularly John, whose usual matchday attire led to the affectionate nickname of "The Undertaker". Our thoughts are with their friends, families and the many fans who knew them by sight. Watching Newcastle will never be the same again." >


A memorial image posted on Twitter by the fan account @gallowgateshots was retweeted hundreds of times.

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke shortly after news of the crash broke. He said the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine was "an absolutely appalling, shocking, horrific incident" and that his thoughts were with the families of those killed.

The PM spoke after a COBRA meeting on the morning news of the Ukraine plane crash broke. Credit: ITV news

NUFC dedicated an area surrounding the Sir Bobby Robson statue for fans to pay their respects to John and Liam.

Flowers left at St James' Park. Credit: ITV News
A tribute to John Alder at St James' Park. Credit: ITV News
A tribute to Liam Sweeney at St James' Park. Credit: ITV News
Fans pay respects at St James' Park Credit: ITV Tyne Tees
Tributes left at St James' Park Credit: ITV Tyne Tees
Tributes left at St James' Park Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Liam Sweeney’s brother Marc paid tribute to him from the family home in the Westerhope area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on the day of the crash.

He said, "our Liam was such a lovely lad and a loyal Newcastle United fan, he loved that club, they were his everything.

"He was so happy when he managed to afford to go to New Zealand to follow his team- we've had some lovely messages from everyone that knew him.

"I think John took him under his wing, I didn't know him personally but I know he was a huge fan. I went to all of the Newcastle home games with Liam but he was so passionate that he travelled everywhere.”

Liam lived in Westgate Court, Newcastle with a flat mate and was part of a close knit family with mother Angela, father, Barry, stepmother Lesley, sisters, Victoria, Lee and Tracey and three brothers, David, Ryan and Mark.

Family picture - Liam Sweeney second from right. Credit: Barry Sweeney

Liam Sweeney's father Barry, 52, a full time carer for his wife Lesley, 53, said:

"He was a kind, generous, hard working lad who was on his way to watch football and he ends up being killed by an act of war.

"Someone has to be held responsible for what happened to my lad.

"If someone hurts your family there are things you can do about but when it's a government or a country there's nothing we can do, we can't go to war.

"It was a terrible act of terrorism and it's cost the life of my son and so many others, people from all over the world.

"The governments need to get together and find a solution to this before more innocent lives are lost.

"My boy was excited to be travelling to watch a game of football he had no part or interest in any of this conflict. How could this happen to him?"

"He and John Alder were great friends and both committed to Newcastle to the same extent.”

"Liam would get called the Big Friendly Giant, he was a gentle lad and never hurt a soul. For him to die through an act of such violence is cruel.”

John Alder's family said he was “a kind, courteous man who was much loved as a son, brother, uncle and fan. Newcastle United was his life and we are proud of his dedication to the team.

The Newcastle United manager and players wore black armbands for both their games against Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix in the Football United Tour of New Zealand.

Back at home, football fans from across the country paid tribute to Liam Sweeney and John Alder, leaving flowers and memorabilia at St James’s Park. The rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland was put aside.

Tributes left at St James' Park Credit: ITV Tyne Tees
Tributes left at St James' Park Credit: ITV Tyne Tees
John Alder's seat at St James' Park.

A book of condolence was opened at St Mary’s Cathedral, Newcastle, for people to record their thoughts.

A book of condolence was opened at St Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees
The book was opened following requests from the public. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Sunderland AFC fans have raised more than £33,000 since the crash, a year ago today. The founder of the page set it up in order to raise £200 for a floral tribute from Sunderland fans but the figure rose dramatically in the days after the crash.

A Sunderland fan set up the page to raise money for a floral tribute. Credit: GoFundMe

"We may be Sunderland fans, who traditionally have deep rivalry with Newcastle, but there are things far more important than any football games."

Sunderland fans' GoFundMe page

Life president and former chairman of Newcastle United Sir John Hall held a memorial event for Liam Sweeney and John Alder at St James’s Park. A minute-long applause was held in their honour.

Sir John Hall with Liam Sweeney's family. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Less than a week after the crash, planes carrying the bodies of some of the victims arrived in Amsterdam. About 60 coffins containing victims of the MH17 disaster arrived in the Netherlands on the first flights from Kharkiv.

Honour guards carry a coffin of one of the victims at Kharkiv. Credit: Reuters

Crowds gathered to pay their respects near the Dutch city of Eindhoven. The family of Liam Sweeney, travelled to Eindhoven five days after the crash.

Bodies from eastern Ukraine were taken to the Dutch city of Eindhoven. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees
The family of Liam Sweeney travelled to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Barry Sweeney laid a wreath alongside tributes to the victims that were left at Schiphol Airport.

Schiphol Airport Credit: ITV News
Schiphol Airport. Credit: ITV News
Schiphol Airport. Credit: ITV News
Barry Sweeney Credit: ITV News

Twelve days after the crash, the family of Liam Sweeney travelled to London to meet Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the progress of the investigation into what happened to flight MH17. They also represented the family of John Alder.

It was not until 5th August that Liam’s family received confirmation that his body had been identified. DNA tests carried out in the Netherlands confirmed he was one of those who had returned to the country.

On 14th August 2014, the body of Liam Sweeney was returned to the North East.

A minute’s silence was held ahead of Newcastle’s first Premier League game of the season, to honour John Alder and Liam Sweeney. The families of both men were invited onto the pitch to lay wreaths alongside former Sunderland goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery and both team captains.

Liam Sweeney and John Alder remembered on an NUFC programme. Credit: PA
Families of Liam Sweeney and John Alder stand next to Fabricio Collocini and Vincent Kompany during the silence. Credit: PA
Barry Sweeney embraces Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany. Credit: PA

Fans from both sides had banners in tribute to the supporters and on 17 minutes the ground erupted into spontaneous applause as a symbolic gesture to mark the fact that they were on board flight MH17.

Liam Sweeney’s funeral took place on 21st August 2014. His family and friends gathered at St Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle. He was the first British victim to be buried.

Flowers for Liam read 'son' 'uncle' and 'friend'. Credit: ITV News
Alan Pardew attended the funeral of Liam Sweeney. Credit: ITV News
Malaysia Airlines has sent this floral tribute to the family of Liam Sweeney. Credit: ITV News

On 29th August, Newcastle United Football Club unveiled a permanent memorial to supporters John Alder and Liam Sweeney.

Bob Moncur joined the families.
Barry Sweeney, father of Liam, blesses the garden.

The Alder Sweeney Memorial Garden, which was constructed in front of the main Milburn Stand at St. James’ Park, stands as a lasting tribute to John, Liam and all Newcastle United supporters who have sadly passed away.

Families of John and Liam gave readings at the memorial.
The families of John and Liam were joined by Rev Canon Glyn Evans

Club officials including former captain Bob Moncur were joined by the families of John and Liam for a private ceremony with a blessing of the memorial garden made by Newcastle United’s club chaplain, Rev Canon Glyn Evans.

In September 2014, a report compiled by Dutch crash investigators on flight MH17 found the plane was punctured by a "large number of high-energy objects" which lead to it falling apart in the air.

It was not until 23rd October 2014 that John Alder’s body was returned to the North East.

His family later donated his large collection of NUFC memorabilia to auction to benefit the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. The collection raised £26,000.

Memorabilia owned by John Alder.