Flight MH17: Dutch take charge of investigation, bodies under Ukraine control

The Netherlands has taken a lead in the investigation of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

In other overnight developments:

  • Train with bodies and remains now under control of Ukraine government
  • Accident investigators yet to arrive at the crash site as fighting continues in the region
  • British to check flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders
  • European Union foreign ministers toughen sanctions on Russia

The refrigerated train carrying the bodies and remains of those killed aboard MH17 have reached the government-controlled city of Kharkiv, finishing the first part of a journey out of the conflict zone where they have been stuck for days.

The next step is an investigation into the downing of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that killed 298 people on board.

Air accident specialists from the Netherlands, the US, Germany and the UK have assembled to prepare the remains of the dead before their onward journey to the Netherlands.

The forensics specialists are expecting a gruesome day, given reports of extreme decomposition of the remains.

It took three days for emergency workers and volunteers on the ground around the crash site to be able to collect many of the bodies from the open fields and forests.

The remains are going to have to be ferried out of Ukraine in phases due to the volume of bodies. Three aircraft - two Dutch and one Australian - are due in Kharkiv to take the bodies to the Netherlands.

The Dutch-led investigation into a rare civilian air disaster in the midst of a conflict zone is slowly taking shape.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian military offensive against pro-Russian separatists is continuing though a ceasefire is in place immediately around the crash site, which shows signs of looting and tampering of evidence.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the investigation is under way. "Our priorities are the recovery of our people, the best possible investigation, and justice," he says.

The Netherlands had the most citizens on the flight and has taken the lead in the forensics efforts. Ukraine, under international rules, has the right to lead the investigation but can pass responsibility to another organisation.

Black boxes head for the UK
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who is overseeing Kiev's handling of the crash, said the black boxes were on the train that had carried victims' bodies.

The devices, which were earlier handed over by the leader of the self-proclaimed pro-Russia rebel state to Malaysian officials, could definitively rule out any equipment malfunction on the jet itself and provide some indication of the unlikely chance that the pilots saw a launch or knew a missile was approaching.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the Air Accidents Investigation Branch based in Farnborough, England would retrieve the data at the Netherlands' request. The black boxes were expected to arrive in the UK early Wednesday morning (local time).

Russia sanctions net tightens
European Union foreign ministers have toughened sanctions on Russia and have threatened trade restrictions on defence and other items if Moscow doesn’t cooperate on managing the crash site and defusing tensions.

But they declined to take up calls by several ministers for an immediate broad arms embargo, suggesting that a long-standing split among EU members over how forcefully to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine remains pronounced since the crash.

The ministers gathered in Brussels decided to sanction people and organisations who have provided support to Russian decision makers, agreeing to name specific targets as early as Thursday.

Targets are expected to include for the first time penalties against prominent Russians close to President Vladimir Putin.