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

By Xeni Jardin at 8:18 am Sun, Jul 20, 2014

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.

Most of the recovered bodies are thought to have been put in refrigerated rail wagons


Most of the recovered bodies are thought to have been put in refrigerated rail wagons

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.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe walk near a train at a railway station in the town of Torez, Ukraine, on Sunday. Employees and local residents say it contains bodies of passengers of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.


Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe walk near a train at a railway station in the town of Torez, Ukraine, on Sunday. Employees and local residents say it contains bodies of passengers of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.

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.

From AP:

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.

 A pro-Russian separatist stands on guard at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 19, 2014.    REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev


A pro-Russian separatist stands on guard at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 19, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

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."

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe inspect a refrigerator wagon, which according to employees and local residents contains bodies of passengers of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane, at a railway station in the town of Torez, Donetsk region July 20, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev


Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe inspect a refrigerator wagon, which according to employees and local residents contains bodies of passengers of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane, at a railway station in the town of Torez, Donetsk region July 20, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

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.

Emergency workers on Saturday carried a body from the site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash in the Donetsk region. For many, the disaster brought home a struggle that had seemed distant. Photo: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters


Emergency workers on Saturday carried a body from the site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash in the Donetsk region. For many, the disaster brought home a struggle that had seemed distant. Photo: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

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."

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.

Related Boing Boing posts:

• "Twitterbot catches Russian State Media anonymously editing MH17 Wikipedia entry"

•"Photos from the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site, in Ukraine (warning: graphic images)"

•"Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 reported shot down in Ukraine near Russian border"

Published 8:18 am Sun, Jul 20, 2014

About the Author

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.

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