MH17 crash: families' worst fears realised as bodies go missing

MH17: Only 200 bodies on train: Head of the Dutch forensics team in Ukraine confirms only 200 bodies have arrived by train in the eastern city of Kharkiv, after being moved from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. 

Kharkiv, Ukraine: The worst fears of the MH17 families and friends were realised when Dutch authorities revealed that there were only 200 bodies on the refrigerated train that pulled into this northern city on Tuesday – leaving almost 100 unaccounted for.

Jan Tuinder, the Dutch leader of the international investigation, said his team would began an airlift of the bodies to Amsterdam on Wednesday. But the shocking revelation in the first detailed briefing since the train’s arrival was the uncertainty Mr Tuinder cast on a disaster in which all the grieving had, at least, been offered the consolation of the return of the body of their dead relatives and friends.

Refrigerated trucks enter military base in Hilversum, the Netherlands. The bodies of the victims killed in the Malaysia Airlines air crash in eastern Ukraine will be identified at the compound's army barracks after arrival. Photo: AFP

Refrigerated trucks enter military base in Hilversum, the Netherlands. The bodies of the victims killed in the Malaysia Airlines air crash in eastern Ukraine will be identified at the compound's army barracks after arrival. Photo: AFP

"As far as we know at this moment we are talking about 200 victims, which means there are probably remains left in the area where this disaster took place," he said, speaking in English at a media briefing in a city hotel. "We are not sure of that, but that's what I think at this moment. [But what's] certain is 200 victims that we are taking out."

The grim reality of the contents of the four Soviet-era chilled wagons that lumbered here from Torez, a community 15km from the crash scene, casts global criticism of the conduct of the search and recovery in the fields of the eastern Ukraine in a disturbing new light – and it utterly undermines the credibility of the Kiev government, which on Monday had given assurances that virtually all the passengers and crew had been accounted for.

Only 200 bodies: Head of an international team of forensics experts, Jan Tuinder, pauses as he speaks during a press conference in Kharkiv. Photo: AFP

Only 200 bodies: Head of an international team of forensics experts, Jan Tuinder, pauses as he speaks during a press conference in Kharkiv. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's suggestion that international forces should take control of 35 sq km crash scene will likely get serious consideration and support with the realisation that a huge new phase of the search for human remains is required, given the uncertainty that the remains of all of the 38 Australians onboard the Malaysian Airways flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur have been recovered.

On this the Dutch official was adamant, saying of those still missing: "They will be found. I know that we do have to go back to sweep the (crash) area. It's an enormous area we all know that. It's more than 14km in length."

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman on Monday said that 282 bodies and 87 fragments of another 16 bodies had been found. At a briefing for reporters in Kiev, he declared that all 298 deceased passengers had been loaded onto the train bound that was to haul them from separatist-controlled territory to this part of the country, which remains in government control.

When Mr Tuinder was asked about the discrepancy, he said: "The only thing I'm sure of is, that I'm sure of the number 200. There is surely 200 corpses - that's the figure, that's the number."

For now, he said, the priority was to return the bodies from the train to their home countries. But the victims would first be identified in Holland and their remains were being repacked in body bags and stores in coffins for the airlift that would begin Wednesday.

The Netherlands has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the 193 Dutch victims of the crash, with the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in the Netherlands in the late afternoon – and King Willem Alexander and Queen are to lead what inevitably will be an emotional reception of families and friends at Eindhoven Airport.

SMH

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