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Experts Recover More Remains From MH17 Debris Site


It's been nearly four months since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine. Most of the bodies were recovered over the summer, but little has been done in the past several months because of the fighting between the Ukrainian Army and separatists. But NPR's Corey Flintoff reports there's a new effort to recover remains and collect evidence before the winter snows set in.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: This is one of the main crash sites of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The last time I was here, this road was lined with body bags where the emergency workers had collected the bodies of the victims of the crash. Right now, there's almost nothing here except some twisted wreckage.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW: I called that crash site the biggest - one of the biggest open crime scenes in the world.

FLINTOFF: That's Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the observer team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Families of the victims want to know who's responsible. Who shot down a civilian passenger jet in July, killing all 298 people on board? Most were Dutch, Malaysians or Australians. Bociurkiw says finding proof won't be easy.

BOCIURKIW: When we first arrived at the MA17 sites, there was no perimeter security. So the entire site was very vulnerable.

FLINTOFF: In terms of evidence, the sites are badly compromised. NATO says the plane was shot down by Russian-backed separatists, but that may never be proven. There's no way to be sure whether evidence has been removed, or even that false or misleading material has been strewn among the debris.

BOCIURKIW: Also, a reminder that that crash site is right in the middle of a conflict zone.


FLINTOFF: Nearby Donetsk Airport has been under heavy shelling for months, and the area's gotten even more dangerous in the past week. Investigators have to pass through that area to reach the wreckage sites from their headquarters in the rebel-held city. Still, the experts from the countries that lost people on the flight have been trying to find answers. Just yesterday, Dutch forensics experts used a small crane to move some heavy wreckage. They recovered more body parts, which will be transferred back to the Netherlands with the same solemn ceremony that accompanied previous remains. On Saturday, more than 1,600 people gathered in Amsterdam for a candlelight ceremony honoring those who died.


FLINTOFF: They included family members and friends of the victims, ambassadors for many of the 17 countries that lost citizens and the Netherlands' king and queen. The Netherlands has been determined to recover as much material from the site as possible before the effort is stopped by winter or renewed fighting. The winter is a certainty, but full-out fighting is also looming as a stronger possibility, as both sides declare the cease-fire to be a failure. OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw says the separatists have been receiving more heavy weapons and fighters.

BOCIURKIW: We've been reporting since Saturday the arrival of three separate convoys of unmarked military vehicles - about 125 vehicles altogether - some of them carrying heavy weaponry, like even multiple rocket launchers.

FLINTOFF: Russia denies that it has any of its military in Ukraine, but Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says Russian President Vladimir Putin must use his influence to keep the separatist fighters in check.


PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE: I expect him to do everything he can to put pressure on the separatists to allow unhindered access to the crash site - to work with the Ukrainians to do what would be only natural and acceptable.

FLINTOFF: And that, Rutte says, means allowing all the countries involved to retrieve their dead and complete their investigation. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.