Dutch experts inspect bodies of crash victims in Ukraine

Dutch experts inspect bodies of crash victims in Ukraine

Credit: Getty Images

rmed pro-Russian separatists stand guard in front of wagons containing the remains of victims from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez on July 21, 2014. The head of a Dutch forensic team said on Monday a train, carrying the remains of victims from the Malaysian airliner crash, should set off later on Monday to a place where 'we can do our work'. AFP PHOTO/ BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)


by Filip Warwick and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY


Posted on July 21, 2014 at 11:46 AM

HRABOVE, Ukraine (USA TODAY) — Dutch investigators arrived in eastern Ukraine Monday and began inspecting the bodies of scores of Malaysia Airlines crash victims that have been stacked in a refrigerated rail car by Russian-backed separatists.

The arrival of the Dutch forensics experts came as the United Nations Security Council was preparing to vote on a resolution demanding international access to the site where Flight 17 went down Thursday after being hit by a surface-to-air missile.

The investigators led by Peter Van Vilet of the Dutch LTFO forensic office climbed aboard to inspect the wagons, surrounded by armed rebels, that had been parked parked in the rebel-held town of Torez..

"We got the promise the train is going," he said, adding he did not know when.

The experts from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team -- which specializes in victim recovery and identification -- also pressed for rebels to seal the train cars.

Associated Press journalists at the site said the smell of decay was overwhelming Monday and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to the faces on the warm summer day.

A train engineer told the AP that a power outage had hit the cars' refrigeration system overnight and it was not immediately clear why. The cooling system was back up and running early Monday, he said.

Armed rebels, who control the area, had kept international inspectors at bay for days, prompting outrage from political leaders in the Netherlands and Australia, whose citizens were aboard the ill-fated jetliner.

During the weekend, separatist groups began removing bodies and other evidence from the huge debris field.

"This is still an absolutely shambolic situation. It does look more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday.

Flight 17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers and 15 crew members when it crashed over rebel territory. The Netherlands lost 193 citizens in the crash, more than any other nation.

Although Russia and separatist leaders have denied responsibility for the shootdown, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday there was mounting evidence that a Russian-made missile, an SA-11, brought down the airliner.

"Given the almost certain culpability of the Russian-backed rebels in the downing of the aircraft, having these people in control of the site is a little like leaving criminals in control of a crime scene," Abbott added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said Moscow was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, to investigate the scene. He also again criticized the Ukraine authorities in Kiev for reigniting fighting with rebels.

"We repeatedly called upon all conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed immediately and sit down at the negotiating table," Putin said. "I can say with confidence that if military operations were not resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy wouldn't have happened."

As one of five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia has the power to veto council resolutions. Russian officials have indicated that Moscow would not veto the move on Monday as long as Russia is not blamed in the resolution.

As pressure was growing on Russia, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yetsenyuk proposed that the Netherlands should lead any international investigation.

In a separate development, there were unconfirmed reports Monday of renewed fighting between pro-Kiev forces and separatists near the main train station in Donetsk, widely seen as the last major stronghold held by rebel forces.