Pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine who had cordoned off the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 appear to have cut into and carted off parts of the plane.
Investigators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that parts of the plane had been removed and cut into, corroborating anecdotal reports from townspeople, who in the last several days had seen parts of the plane carried away by forklift near the town of Grabovo, where much of the aircraft fell after being hit by a missile.
A report Tuesday on USA Today’s website further clarified that it was the cockpit that had been sawn in half, with portions of it and much of the fuselage gone from the site.
Investigators had expressed concern about tampering when the site was closed to investigators for several days after the crash. Those experts began to gain full access to the site only Monday.
Dutch and Malaysian forensic experts are already in eastern Ukraine to begin the process of analysing the site. Investigators from the International Civil Aviation Organization are expected to arrive shortly, as are officials from the US National Transportation Safety Board.
Typically, those groups collect as much of the plane as possible to attempt to reconstruct the accident; their jobs will be difficult, however, if large portions are missing.
The leader of the separatists, Oleksandr Boroday, has not said he will share any evidence found by separatists with investigators.
Separately Tuesday, Dutch forensic experts in the government-controlled city of Kharkiv began counting bodies of victims about 4pm and after several hours had tallied more than 200.
According to the Ukrainian government official in charge of the site, a total of 282 bodies are on the train that arrived from the separatist-controlled city of Torez. Some Western news outlets were reporting, apparently erroneously, that many bodies were missing.
The first group of bodies will be transferred to a Dutch military aircraft and leave for the Netherlands on Wednesday.
A total of 193 Dutch citizens died Thursday when the plane was downed by a missile believed to have been fired by pro-Russia separatists. An additional 105 victims hail from Australia, Britain and elsewhere. The bodies of about 15 victims remain unaccounted for.
While the train waited in Donetsk overnight, flight recorders from the plane were turned over to Malaysian officials in a late-night, pageant-filled ceremony at a separatist-controlled building nearby.
Boroday, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, turned over the two “black boxes” to Colonel Mohamed Sakri, who referred to Boroday as “His Excellency”. The recorders, which were found at the crash site as early as Friday by separatists, are to be analysed for pre-crash data, though investigators are skeptical they will reveal much given the immediacy of the missile impact.
Some have also voiced concerns that separatists could have tampered with the devices.
After the transfer, the recorders were carried on the train by the Malaysian investigators and are now in Kharkiv.
Meanwhile, fighting between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces continued Tuesday in Donetsk, with the two sides vying for control of the eastern hub.
-Los Angeles Times