MH17 crash: Investigators discover more human remains

Team of Dutch and Australian experts comb scrubland for the remains of up to 80 victims

International investigators have found more human remains and passengers’ belongings at the crash site of downed flight MH17 during their first visit to the area.

The team of 70 Dutch and Australian experts spent several hours combing sprawling fields around the debris zone in eastern Ukraine, trying to collect the remains of as many as 80 victims which have been inaccessible because of fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels.

The head of the Dutch recovery mission, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, said on Friday that the team were able to gather some remains, but would not give out details out of respect for the victims’ families.

Papers and books belonging to some of the victims were also reportedly found.

It is painstaking work, with a search area covering more than 20 square kilometres across scrubland, farmland and paddocks basked in midsummer heat. The Associated Press reported the sound of artillery fire in the distance.

 

Aalbersberg said that it took a team of 30 experts two hours to search an area of just 25 square metres.

"If we have a maximum capacity, we think we need at least three weeks to do a full search, but that’s a very thin prospect," he said.

Fighting in the area had previously hindered attempts of investigators to access the site where the Boeing 777, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down two weeks ago with the loss of all 298 people on board.

The Australian Federal Police national security specialist Andrew Colvin told reporters in Canberra on Saturday that the recovery mission was not under threat, and could last up to 10 days assuming conditions in the area remained stable.

 “All parties involved respected the conditions set to allow safe passage both in and out of the wreckage site and the wreckage site itself,” he said, adding that the team would not “take any unnecessary risks”, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The remains will be transported in refrigerated train cars to Kharkiv, and then flown to the Netherlands. Nearly 200 of the victims were Dutch.

“Perseverance pays off,” Dutch Prime Minister Rutte said. “The first step has been taken, but the security situation is still volatile.”

 

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Press Association

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