Bodies of some MH17 victims get somber send-off from Ukraine
KHARKIV, Ukraine — In a somber ceremony both moving and meaningful, white-gloved Ukrainian soldiers Wednesday respectfully carried the bodies of passengers killed in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to an airplane that would fly them home to a waiting Dutch king and queen, and a grieving nation on an official day of mourning.
The nearly martial honors afforded the remains on a sunny tarmac in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv contrasted sharply with how they were first treated in death — first blown out of the sky by a suspected surface-to-air missile, then allowed to remain exposed to the elements for days. In some cases, furious Dutch officials say, they were stripped of their personal belongings.
Two military aircraft carrying 40 bodies arrived in the Dutch city of Eindhoven shortly before 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET). A lone bugler was to mark the arrival, followed by a minute of silence across the nation. Families of the dead and Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima were to be on hand.
Of the 298 people who died aboard Flight 17, 193 were Dutch citizens.
The ceremonies come amid continued confusion over who shot the plane down, and why, and want happened to the evidence where the plane fell to earth in fields deep in eastern Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
‘Black boxes’ arrive in UK
It took days for Ukrainian rebels who control the area of the crash site to hand over the bodies and the airliners’ black boxes to Malaysian officials.
Now, the voice and flight data recorders are in Britain for what will be a detailed scouring by international analysts, officials said.
The Dutch Safety Board is leading the Flight 17 investigation. Dutch officials had asked for help from British accident investigators to retrieve data from the boxes for international analysis, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
Analyzing data from the black boxes could take several weeks, the Safety Board said.
But the black boxes might not help answer the two most pressing questions: who shot down the plane, and why.
And after global debate over whether planes should fly over conflict zones, the Safety Board said it will conduct two additional probes: “an investigation into the decision-making for flight routes and an investigation into the availability of passenger lists.”
Some bodies unaccounted for
Once in the Netherlands, the bodies will be taken to a military facility for forensic testing, Dutch officials say. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it could take weeks or even months to identify the remains.
Officials gave conflicting reports about how many bodies were on the train that traveled from the crash site to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.
Malaysian official Mohd Sakri, who traveled on the train with the remains, said there were 282 corpses and 87 body parts aboard — the same tally Ukrainian officials earlier gave to describe the remains recovered from the crash site.
But Dutch investigators only confirmed there were at least 200 bodies transported from the crash site, according to Jan Tuinder, head of the Dutch delegation
Another Dutch official said investigators were still going through the train cars and it was possible that all the crash victims were on the train.
But officials said Monday that at the least, the bodies of 16 people were still unaccounted for. Their remains may still be scattered across a debris field spanning several miles.
Bodies landed near orphanage
The massive and ghastly debris field means many residents are traumatized.
Children at an orphanage in Rozsypne village were playing outside when the plane exploded. They saw the body of one boy hit the earth.
One of their teachers, Valentina, remembers their horror.
“These are dead bodies!” the children screamed, Valentina said.
She points to a large divot in the grass where a woman’s body had landed, not far from where the children were playing.
Some of the orphans screamed, Valentina said. Others just sat and cried.
The latest accusations
Meanwhile, the finger-pointing between Russia, Ukraine, Ukrainian rebels and the United States over who shot down the plane gets more complicated by the day.
On Wednesday, a U.K. security source said the British government has intelligence showing a surface-to-air missile was launched from rebel-held territory in the seconds before Flight 17 crashed. Their findings suggest the weapon was a Buk missile system, known in the West as the SA-11, according to the source.
The analysis comports with U.S. findings released last week by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
The U.K. source also said British officials say they find “persuasive” conversations intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence indicating separatists had an SA-11 in their possession as early as July 14.
U.S. officials say pro-Russian rebels were responsible for shooting down the plane, but they say the rebels probably didn’t know they were targeting a commercial airliner.
Less clear is who was ultimately responsible for the jet’s destruction. Rebels blame Ukraine, Ukraine blames both rebels and Russia and Russia points the finger back at Ukraine’s military.
Vitaly Nayda, Ukraine’s director of informational security, told CNN’s Kyung Lah that the person who shot down the flight was “absolutely” a Russian. “A Russian-trained, well-equipped, well-educated officer … pushed that button deliberately,” he said.
“We taped conversations” between a Russian officer and his office in Moscow, Nayda said. “We know for sure that several minutes before the missile was launched, there was a report” to a Russian officer that the plane was coming, he said.
Moscow has denied claims that it pulled the trigger. And Russian Army Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov suggested a Ukrainian jet fighter may have shot the plane down.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rejected that in an exclusive interview with CNN, saying that all Ukrainian aircraft were on the ground at the time.
Pro-Russian rebels have repeatedly denied responsibility for the attack.