MH17 bodies arrive in Ukraine, but some are missing

PAUL MCGEOUGH
Last updated 11:10 23/07/2014
Sydney Morning Herald

The arrival of a refrigerated train carrying bodies of MH17 victims was shrouded in secrecy, Paul McGeough reports.

MH17: Only 200 bodies on train

MH17 crash site
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A satellite image shows the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, in this July 20, 2014 DigitalGlobe handout photo.

Safety top concern at MH17 site

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It sounded promising. Finally, the bodies of the 298 victims of the MH17 air disaster were to be airlifted from Kharkiv, where they arrived from rebel-held territory overnight. Then came the bad news.

Dutch authorities said there were only 200 bodies on the refrigerated train that pulled into the northern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv - leaving almost 100 unaccounted for. It showed there was no end to the confusion that had reigned since the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot from the sky over Ukrainian airspace last Thursday

Jan Tuinder, the Dutch leader of the international investigation, said his team would begin an airlift of the bodies to Amsterdam on Wednesday (local time).

But the shocking revelation in the first detailed briefing since the train's arrival was the uncertainty Tuinder cast on a disaster in which all those grieving had, at least, been offered the consolation of the return of the body of their dead relatives and friends.

"As far as we know at this moment we are talking about 200 victims, which means there are probably remains left in the area where this disaster took place," he said.

"We are not sure of that, but that's what I think at this moment. [But what's] certain is 200 victims that we are taking out."

The grim reality of the contents of the four Soviet-era chilled wagons that lumbered here from Torez, a community 15 kilometres from the crash scene, casts global criticism of the conduct of the search and recovery in the fields of the eastern Ukraine in a disturbing new light - and it utterly undermines the credibility of the Kiev government, which on Monday had given assurances that virtually all the passengers and crew had been accounted for.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's suggestion that international forces should take control of 35 sq km crash scene will likely get serious consideration and support with the realisation that a huge new phase of the search for human remains is required, given the uncertainty that the remains of all of the 38 Australians onboard the Malaysian Airways flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur have been recovered.

On this the Dutch official was adamant, saying of those still missing: "They will be found. I know that we do have to go back to sweep the (crash) area. It's an enormous area we all know that. It's more than 14 kilometres in length."

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman on Monday said that 282 bodies and 87 fragments of another 16 bodies had been found.

At a briefing for reporters in Kiev, he declared that all 298 deceased passengers had been loaded onto the train that was to haul them from separatist-controlled territory to this part of the country, which remains in government control.

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ARRIVAL: A Ukrainian policeman watches as a train carrying the remains MH17 victims arrives in the city of Kharkiv.


When Tuinder was asked about the discrepancy, he said: "The only thing I'm sure of is, that I'm sure of the number 200. There is surely 200 corpses - that's the figure, that's the number."

For now, he said, the priority was to return the bodies from the train to their home countries. But the victims would first be identified in the Netherlands and their remains were being repacked in body bags and stored in coffins for the airlift.

The Netherlands has declared a national day of mourning for the 193 Dutch victims of the crash, with the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in the Netherlands in the late Wednesday afternoon (local time)  - and King Willem Alexander and Queen were to lead what inevitably will be an emotional reception of families and friends at Eindhoven Airport.

INDIGNITY CONTINUED, REPORTERS IN TEARS

The arrival in the city of a refrigerated train carrying the bodies marked the end of serial interference and mismanagement.

The train is at the Balashovka cargo rail station, part of a sprawling industrial facility south-east of downtown Kharkiv.

But even at this last stop, the movement from train to plane was not without indignity.

After spending the morning waiting to be of assistance, more than half of a Malaysian expert team - who had come to help generally but also to retrieve the bodies of their countrymen - were denied access to a special cargo facility where the train was being unloaded, because of complaints that the space was too confined.

And others in the group, including two British officials, were cooling their heels outside the compound after being informed by a woman who said she was a representative of the local Governor that they did not have correct authority to enter the site.

Officials from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were making phone calls to the office of the Prime Minister in Kiev in an effort to get the necessary approval.

Only one of four buses was allowed to enter the station. Reporters have been barred.

Malaysian journalists were in tears at the news they were not going to be let inside. One told AAP, "Why haven't they let us in - it is our plane. We have to show the Malaysian Prime Minister."

Malaysian investigators also have two black boxes from the flight, which would shed light on cockpit conversations and flight data from MH17's final moments.

The train left at its planned 7pm departure time from Torez, near the crash scene, but was delayed for hours at regional centre Donetsk amid rebel bickering on the handing over of the black box flight data recorders to Malaysian officials.

It finally left Donetsk at about 6.30am for what was estimated to be a journey of three to four hours. However, there were delays - first, with mechanical problems; and second, at a rebel checkpoint from the railway, Malaysian victim identity specialists said.

Several Malaysian officials were travelling on the train, with the black boxes, and others were making the precarious five-hour road trip through rebel-held territory to reach Kharkiv.

- Sydney Morning Herald/AAP

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