As Dutch experts prepared to fly out bodies recovered from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Tuesday, Malaysia said it will keep hold of the black boxes voice and data recorders until an international team is formed and will then hand them over.
A train carrying the remains of the victims arrived in the government-held Ukrainian city of Kharkiv five days after the jet was brought down, after rebels controlling the crash site finally released the bodies and plane’s black boxes under intense international pressure.
But that was only the first leg of the long journey home for many of the 298 crash victims, with the bodies to be flown on Wednesday first to the Netherlands, which had 193 citizens aboard the doomed flight and is taking the lead in investigating the disaster.
It would also be the start of a complex investigation and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that the identification of the bodies alone could take months as experts from the Netherlands said they were only sure 200 bodies had been delivered so far.
“The Malaysian team has taken custody of the black boxes, which appear to be in good condition. They will be held securely in Malaysian custody while the international investigation team is being formalised,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement. “At that time, we will pass the black boxes to the international investigation team for further analysis.”
The separatists currently stand accused by the US and some other nations of bringing down the aircraft, allegedly with a missile supplied by Russia.
Malaysia’s deal with the rebels capped an official response praised at home as swift and clear, in contrast to the government’s widely mocked handling of missing flight MH370 in March.
Earlier hundreds of Malaysians protested outside the Russian and Ukrainian embassies to denounce the downing of Flight MH17 and demand the perpetrators be brought to justice.
In Brussels, European foreign ministers decided to prepare defence sector sanctions against Moscow, accused of arming the rebels who allegedly shot down MH17 and the EU was due to announce a new list of sanction targets.
After intense international focus on what world leaders denounced as a “shambolic” situation at the crash site, rebels handed over two black boxes, which record cockpit activity and flight data, to Malaysian officials.
The rebels followed Kiev in announcing a ceasefire around the impact site in a move that should help international investigators examine the vast area, a forensic minefield littered with poignant fragments from hundreds of destroyed lives.
Elsewhere in Ukraine’s east, fighting was continuing with local authorities in the besieged cities of Donetsk and Lugansk reporting 10 civilians killed in 24 hours and Ukraine’s military saying 13 soldiers had died.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.