Collection of MH17 debris finally begins

MH17 debris is recovered under the watch of Dutch officials in Donetsk, Ukraine. Picture: Getty

MH17 debris is recovered under the watch of Dutch officials in Donetsk, Ukraine. Picture: Getty

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WORKERS in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine started collect-ing debris from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 yesterday, four months after the plane was brought down.

The operation is being carried out under the supervision of Dutch investigators and officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The recovered fragments are to be loaded on to trains and taken to the government-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where the investigation into the cause of the crash is being conducted as well as in the Netherlands.

Alexander Kostrubitsky, the head of the emergency services in the rebel-held areas of Donetsk, said gathering debris could take around ten days. The debris is being cut into smaller pieces to facilitate its transportation, Mr Kostrubitsky said.

All 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when it was shot down on 17 July over a rebel-held area.

Charred remains of the aircraft are scattered over fields in an area of eight square miles.

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Dutch officials said in late October that 289 victims had been identified, but concluding the process had been hampered by lack of usable DNA, as not all remains had been collected from the crash site.

However, more bone fragments were found yesterday after part of the plane was lifted away, Mr Kostrubitsky said. The first batch of plane debris was delivered from near the village of Hrabove to a warehouse in the town of Torez yesterday for loading on to cargo trains.

Investigation and recovery operations have been delayed amid continued fighting between government troops and separatist fighters. A truce was agreed in September, but hostilities have raged on.

Ukraine and the West have blamed the downing of the MH17 flight on Russia-backed separatists using a ground-to-air missile.

Russian state TV has released a satellite photograph it claims shows that a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but the US government dismissed the report as preposterous and the photo has been described as a crude fake.

The photo, released on Friday by Russia’s Channel One and Rossiya TV stations, purportedly shows a Ukrainian fighter plane firing an air-to-air missile in the direction of the MH17.

The channels said they obtained the photo from a Moscow-based organisation, which had received it via email from a man claiming to be an aviation expert.

Several bloggers said the photograph was a forgery, citing a cloud pattern to prove the photo dates from 2012, and several other incongruous details.

Some saw the photo as a propaganda bid intended to deflect criticism over the tragedy that Russian president Vladimir Putin faced at a Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.

Mr Putin was the first to leave the summit yesterday, insisting he had left before a final leaders’ lunch because he wanted to rest.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has been highly critical of Russia since the Malaysian jet was shot down.

“I utterly deplore what seems to be happening in eastern Ukraine,” he said. “I demand that Russia fully cooperate with the investigation, the criminal investigation of the downing of MH17, one of the most terrible atrocities of recent times.”

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