Investigators have limited access to MH17 crash site
July 21, 2014, Donetsk, Ukraine - Pro-Moscow rebels piled nearly 200 bodies from the downed Malaysian jetliner into four refrigerated boxcars Sunday in eastern Ukraine, and cranes at the crash scene moved big chunks of the Boeing 777, drawing condemnation from Western leaders that the rebels were tampering with the site.
July 21, 2014 By The Associated Press
The United States, meanwhile, presented what it called "powerful"
evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian
surface-to-air missile and training. Although other governments have
stopped short of accusing Russia of actually causing the crash, the U.S.
was ahead of most in pointing blame on Moscow for the downing of
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that killed all 298 people aboard.
"Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these
separatists. Russia is training these separatists," Secretary of State
John Kerry said on CNN's State of the Union.
Leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Australia spoke to Russian
President Vladimir Putin by phone late Sunday, urging him to use his
influence on the separatists to ensure the victims could be repatriated
and international investigators could have full access to collect
evidence. They said European foreign ministers will be meeting in
Brussels Tuesday to consider further sanctions on Russia.
More than three days after the jetliner crashed, international
investigators still had only limited access to the sprawling fields
where the plane fell.
In the Netherlands, worshippers at church services prayed for the
victims, as anger grew over the rebels' hindering of the investigation.
Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend,
Daisy Oehlers, were among those killed, said she was appalled their
bodies weren't being handed over.
"Mr. Putin, send my children home," she said, speaking on Sky TV from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. "Send them home. Please."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a blistering opinion piece for the Sunday Times,
said "the growing weight of evidence" suggests the rebels shot down the
plane, and if that is so, "this is a direct result of Russia
destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity,
backing thuggish militias and training and arming them."
Russian officials have blamed Ukraine's government for creating the
situation and atmosphere in which the plane was downed, but has yet to
directly address the allegations that the separatists were responsible
or were operating with technical assistance from Moscow.
The 109-square-kilometre crash site, spread out on farmland and
villages, looked dramatically different Sunday, a day after armed rebels
had stood guard while dozens of bodies lay in the summer heat. The
rebels were gone, and 192 bodies were loaded into the refrigerated train
cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers away.
The Ukrainian government said in a statement on its website that a
second train with four refrigerator cars had arrived at Torez station.
Emergency workers, who the rebels have allowed to operate under their
control, were searching the sprawling fields. Cranes moved pieces of
the plane around, apparently to look for more bodies underneath.
By Sunday night, Ukraine's emergency services agency said the total number of bodies found was 251, with dozens of body parts.
Kerry expressed outrage at the "grotesque" behaviour of the rebels at the crash scene.
"Drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the back of trucks, removing materials from the site," he told
ABC's This Week. "On Friday, we had 75 minutes of access to the site; on Saturday, three hours of access. This is an insult to everybody.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 192 citizens on
the plane, told a news conference that repatriating the bodies was his
"No. 1 priority."
He said all efforts were aimed at getting the train with the bodies
to "territory controlled by Ukraine," adding that a Dutch military plane
was being sent to Kharkiv to set up a coordination centre.
Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, said reports from the group's investigators in
Ukraine suggest some bodies were incinerated without a trace.
"We're looking at the field where the engines have come down. This
was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see
any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized," he said from
the crash site.
Rebel leader Alexander Borodai denied the rebels were trying to
tamper with evidence, saying the bodies would be turned over to a team
of Malaysian experts he was expecting.
A group of investigators that included Malaysian officials was in
Kyiv, but said they wouldn't go into rebel-held areas until they get
better assurances about security. The Ukrainian government, which has
responsibility for the investigation, has also asked for help from the
International Civil Aviation Organization — a UN body — and Eurocontrol,
a European air traffic safety organization.
Borodai insisted the rebels have not interfered with the
investigation, and said he would turn over the plane's flight data and
cockpit voice recorders, or "black boxes," as well.
"The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
But it was clear that the rebels were interfering in the investigation.
Lyubov Kudryavets, a worker at the Torez morgue, said that on the
evening the plane went down, a resident brought in the bloodied body of a
child, about 7 or 8 years old. On Saturday, militiamen came to take the
body away, she said.
"They began to question me: `Where are the fragments of rocket? Where
are the fragments from the plane?"' Kudryavets said. "But I didn't have
any wreckage. … I swear."
Experts said that even if investigators are granted access now, it might be too late.
"Even without any deliberate attempt at a cover-up, the crash site is
already compromised in forensic terms," said Keir Giles, an associate
fellow at the Chatham House think tank. "A reconstruction of the
aircraft fuselage and wings would give a picture on how the missile
struck and what kind it was. If any aircraft parts have already been
removed … this compromises the objectivity of the investigation."
On the diplomatic front, Western leaders stepped up the pressure on
Putin. The leaders of France, Germany and Britain issued a joint
statement demanding that he force the separatists to "finally allow
rescuers and investigators to have free and total access to the zone."
Rutte said the Dutch foreign minister was headed to the UN to lobby
"to further expand the international coalition pushing for quick
recovery of the bodies and getting to the bottom of the terrible events