Rebels seize MH17 plane crash black boxes and bodies, human remains shipped on train to unknown site
Xeni Jardin recaps the latest news from Ukraine, where securing the crash site of Flight MH17 remains an open question
Flowers left on debris of flight MH17 (Reuters)
On Sunday morning, reporters at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in Eastern Ukraine say armed pro-Russia militants have forced emergency workers to hand over all bodies and body parts recovered so far. The human remains were then loaded onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel-held city.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman said 192 bodies and eight body parts were loaded onto the railway cars.
The rebels say they also have the plane's "black box" data recorders, and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
This development comes after days of global outrage over how the remains of the MH17 crash victims and the crash site itself are being treated--and how that chaos makes a thorough, impartial investigation impossible.
Ukraine and pro-Putin separatists each accuse the other of firing a surface-to-air missile at the plane, which was flying at roughly 33,000 feet from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over the war zone in eastern Ukraine. Both sides deny responsibility. All people on the plane, 283 passengers and 15 crew, are presumed dead.
Associated Press journalists saw reeking bodies baking in the summer heat Saturday, piled into body bags by the side of the road or still sprawled where they landed in the verdant farmland in eastern Ukraine after their plane was shot out of the sky Thursday.
By Sunday morning, AP journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels at the crash site. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts.
Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts Sunday morning, told reporters he and other workers had no choice but to hand the bodies over to the rebels. "They are armed and we are not," Pilyushny said. "The militiamen came, put the bodies onto the trucks and took them away."
From a powerful report by Peter Baker and colleagues at the New York Times:
[T]he horror of the crash site was on full display. Small white pieces of cloth dotted the grassy farmland, marking the locations of bodies. The smell of burned flesh hung heavily near a broken hulk of metal on the road. A foot with part of a leg lay nearby.
The scene was strangely empty. There was no yellow tape, no investigators poring over the giant metal carcass. Four local rebels wearing fatigues and carrying hunting rifles wandered through the ruins, poking around the debris more out of curiosity. On the grass were photographs of a family vacation, a baby announcement postcard and a boarding pass.
One of the men, who had never seen a boarding pass, asked what it was. Another picked up an English-language tour book and flipped through it before throwing it back in the heap. “I can’t read it anyway,” he said.
The Guardian's Shaun Walker, in Ukraine:
The Guardian witnessed the arrival of a delegation from the international monitoring body the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at around midday local time to inspect the wagons, accompanied by a convoy of heavily armed and nervous rebels. As they opened the metal door to one of the carriages to inspect the interior, a stench of death wafted out, and black body bags were visible inside.
"The special monitoring mission in its third day dealing with the incident has now monitored the location where bodies are being refrigerated in three wagons," said Alexander Hug, the deputy chief of the mission. "We have not been able to count them as that would be too difficult in this situation."
Michael Bociurkiw, the spokesman for the mission, added: "Going inside the wagons is impossible without special equipment. The stench is very, very bad."
These are the train drivers. They told me they have no idea where they will be driving the train with MH17 bodies pic.twitter.com/nqCPN3virk— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 20, 2014
The train with MH17 bodies. Surreally deserted. Suspect there will be 600 journalists here in about ten minutes... pic.twitter.com/wOmjgmJcuf— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) July 20, 2014
Anywhere else, a plane crash site would be roped off & crawling w investigators. Not here. Just us, rebels, & local emergency workers #MH17— Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia) July 19, 2014
Rebels here say bodies being taken to morgue, but won't say whether in their occupied area or govt controlled area. #MH17— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) July 19, 2014
No sign of black boxes. No sign of missile debris. No sign of aviation or military experts. No idea where the bodies are going. #MH17— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 19, 2014
The New York Times is creating an index of the dead, with stories about their lives.
Below, yet another purportedly intercepted phone call between pro-Russia rebel commanders, recorded by Ukraine intelligence. This one deals with the matter of who has control over the black boxes, and the bodies. US intelligence officials have not denied the validity of the previously-released recordings. Each of these has notably included what are said to be the actual phone numbers of the people whose voices we're hearing on the calls.
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•"Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 reported shot down in Ukraine near Russian border"
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