— -- A Dutch cyclist, who escaped tragedy twice after missing flights on both doomed Malaysia Airlines flights, is shaken over the coincidences, but feels “lucky to be alive.”
Maarten de Jonge, 29, had planned to be on both Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine last week, and Flight MH 370, which disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March. But in both instances, he changed his travel plans before the flights took off.
“I was so scared when I heard the news [about Flight 17]. I still cannot think about it,” de Jonge told ABC's David Wright after landing at the airport in Terengganu, Malaysia on Monday. “A lot of people died in the crash and I feel very, very sorry for the passengers and their families. But I am very lucky to be alive.”
De Jonge had just arrived after an 18-hour journey -- from Amsterdam to Frankfort to Kuala Lumpur to Terengganu. Flying from the Netherlands, where he was born, to Malaysia, where he now lives and competes as a professional cyclist, de Jonge said he had originally planned to take the direct flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and had bought a ticket on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
But the plane ticket was expensive, more than $1,300 US. Then, he said he saw another flight that was roughly $400 cheaper.
“There was one place left so I decided to buy another ticket,” de Jonge said. “Unbelievable, but yeah, that’s how it is.”
Even more unbelievable is the fact that he has been through this before.
“Yes, a couple of months ago, with MH370, it was the same story,” de Jonge said. "I was very, very close to be[ing] on that flight too."
De Jonge said in March he and his cycling teammates were booking flights to compete in the Tour de Taiwan. They decided at the last minute to not take Malaysia Airways Flight 370 so they could avoid a lengthy layover. Instead they took a different flight half an hour later than Flight 370’s takeoff time from Kuala Lumpur.
Their flight arrived at its destination safely. Flight 370 vanished without a trace, and remains missing.
“I realize how in a split second a decision will decide how your life is going to be,” de Jonge said. "These things don't happen twice."