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Team Calls Visit to MH17 Crash Site in Ukraine a Success

  • VOA News

Investigators in eastern Ukraine reached the wreckage of a downed Malaysian airliner Thursday.

It was their first look at the July 17 crash site after earlier attempts were blocked by armed pro-Russian rebels.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced the development Thursday, saying a small team of its monitors, accompanied by four Dutch and Australian experts, had reached the site using a new route.

As the investigators - two each from the Netherlands and Australia - made an initial survey of the area shortly after lunchtime, fighting raged between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels, and mortar shells rained down on fields in a nearby village, The Associated Press reported.

Initial visit a success

Despite the dangers, upon returning to the rebel-held city of Donetsk, the team called the one-hour inspection a success.

Alexander Hug, deputy head of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mission to Ukraine, told AP the team had gathered vital information regarding the security situation on the ground, which would allow them to return and start work in earnest.

He said the biggest risk was that rebels in the area were "very nervous."

"Today was more about an assessment of the site than it was a search," Australian Federal Police commander Brian McDonald, who is working with the OSCE team, told AP.

Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the Dutch-led international team investigating the disaster, said at a news conference in Kyiv that experts on Thursday had not seen any bodies but would begin searching for human remains and belongings on Friday.

'A lot of negotiation'

An OSCE spokesman said to CNN television that the team managed to reach the crash site thanks to "a lot of negotiation in a short amount of time."

On its Twitter feed, the OSCE said the team is expected to do "initial reconnaissance" and will start searching for evidence and remains as soon as possible on a later visit.

Earlier Thursday, Ukraine announced a one-day halt in its fight against the pro-Russian rebels in the area to allow the international investigators to reach the crash site.

Kyiv said the move was in response to a plea by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to stop fighting and allow the team in.

Families of the victims of the crash, which killed 298 people July 17, have been anxious for investigators to reach the scene.

Some human remains are believed still at the site, after about 200 sets of remains were transferred to the Netherlands for identification last week.

Video shot Wednesday by a CNN team that managed to reach the site showed broken pieces of luggage, travel books, a pair of blue jeans, and parts of the plane riddled with holes, all scattered across a field full of grass and wildflowers in some locations and charred bare in others.

Speaking during a visit to the Netherlands, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday called for an" immediate cessation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine." He also stressed that investigators need to be given full access to the crash site.

Russian missile

U.S. analysts say the Malaysia Airlines plane - downed over eastern Ukraine - was destroyed by a Russian missile likely fired by rebels who believed the aircraft was Ukrainian.

In other developments, Ukraine's parliament approved legislation boosting funding for the fight for control of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. Lawmakers also voted not to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who announced his departure last week after the two parties backing him left the ruling coalition.

In Brussels, meanwhile, the European Union formally adopted broad economic sanctions against Moscow for its support of rebels in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

The new measures, agreed to after months of EU debate, target Russia's banking, energy, and defense sectors. The EU's official journal named banking giants Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, VEB and Rosselkhozbank. U.S. President Barack Obama announced separate penalties Wednesday in Washington.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called the EU - US sanctions -- the strongest against Moscow since the end of the Cold War - "destructive and short-sighted." It also accused Washington of behaving in a "pretentious, prosecutorial manner" that will lead to "further aggravation of U.S.-Russia relations."

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

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