By Gabriel Benjamin
A first set of bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines3786.KU -4.35% Flight 17 crash site is expected to be transported to the Netherlands on Wednesday, where forensics experts will begin the complex task of identifying the victims and returning them to their loved ones.
Netherlands, which lost 193 nationals as the passenger airline crashed Thursday on itsflight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, is leading the efforts and the overall investigation into the cause of the disaster. In total, 298 people from 10 nations were aboard the flight when it was said to have been shot down; there were no survivors.
Some 100 multinational forensics experts took custody of the bodies around midday Tuesday after the train pulling five gray refrigerated wagons rolled out of pro-Russia rebel-held territory and into the industrial outskirts of Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city where initial work on the victims’ remains is being conducted.
The forensic experts observed a moment of silence before opening the first wagon at a makeshift forensics complex at the city’s Malashev Tank Factory.
The shut Soviet-era factory is located in a closed military zone, which, according to a Dutch spokeswoman for the group, was chosen to allow the forensics team to complete its work and provide the maximum dignity for the victims and their families. “It is a grim, grim job. We expected very difficult circumstances and very difficult scenes. The work requiresprivacy,” said spokeswoman Esther Naber.
The arrival of the remains came after five days of thorny negotiations between the Ukrainian government and the separatists who control the crash site and international outrage over the rudimentary recovery efforts that advanced the decomposition of victims’ remains in humid, summer conditions.
When the train left the rebel-held areas on Monday, Ukrainian emergency workers who took over the job of collecting the remains said 282 bodies and 87 body parts were loaded on the train.
By late Tuesday, however, the Dutch-led teams in Kharkiv said they confirmed that at least 200 individuals had been recovered. The number accounts for the bodies in two of the five railway cars, said Jan Tuinder, the chief of the Dutch mission in Kharkiv.
In contrast to the poor conditions at the crash site, the Dutch teams used relatively advanced technology to do their work on the remains and sealing them in coffins for the flight to Holland, where the process of identifying the remains will be completed.
The Dutch on Sunday flew a plane of coffins and specialist equipment to Kharkiv. The first plane with remains will leave Kharkiv on Wednesday, said Mr. Tuinder. At least 50 bodies were already prepared to be flown to the Netherlands by late Tuesday, but preparations to fly the remainder were expected to continue through Friday.
The remains are destined for Eindhoven, Netherlands. Family members of the victims, the Dutch king and queen, the Dutch prime minister and dignitaries from countries that lost nationals are expected to be present when the plane arrives. The remains will then be transferred to a military base in Hilversum, southeast of Amsterdam.
Approximately 40 Dutch experts have spent two days equipping large warehouse spaces there with special air-conditioning equipment to help preserve the remains, and computers being used to process genetic information.
Some human remains are still present in the wreckage of the downed aircraft, the spokesman from the international mediation group from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Tuesday.
“We observed the presence of smaller body parts at the site,” Michael Bociurkiw, told reporters at his daily briefing in Donetsk hours after a train with the bodies of the victims reached Kharkiv on Monday.
Mr. Bociurkiw said three Malaysian aviation experts noticed a strong smell at the area where the cockpit and the front section of the plane hit the ground, which suggests that human remains are still there.
He also said that smaller body parts may still remain on the accident site.
He said the task of finding remains has been rendered more difficult because of the landscape of corn and sunflower fields, combined with the continuing hostilities in the area.