MH17 air crash: Recovered bodies put on train

A freight wagon carrying the remains of MH17 victims in Torez station, eastern Ukraine, 20 July A freight wagon carrying the remains of MH17 victims at Torez station

The remains of up to 196 people from the MH17 crash in Ukraine have been loaded on to refrigerated rail wagons, to be taken to an unknown destination.

All 298 people on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 died when a missile reportedly hit it on Thursday.

Western countries have criticised pro-Russian rebels controlling the area for restricting access to the crash site.

The rebels say they will hand MH17's flight recorders to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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At the scene: Fergal Keane, BBC News, at the crash site

The indiscipline and chaos of the last two days have been replaced by the robust presence of former riot policemen who now form a cordon around the central area of the crash site.

There is still no sign of the fully fledged independent investigation which is being demanded by the international community.

During the morning local volunteers have been searching the fields. We have been told that their job is to pinpoint belongings and remains to the emergency services. But this could easily have the effect of disturbing evidence important to an inquiry.

As for the strong words from British Prime Minister David Cameron attacking Russia they are likely to have little impact on the rebels here. They are contemptuous of the West and are much more concerned with the local military balance than with any warnings from London.

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General view of a train of refrigerator wagons, which is thought to contain bodies of passengers of the crashed Malaysia Airlines plane, July 20, 2014. Most of the recovered bodies are thought to have been put in refrigerated rail wagons
A crane at the crash site lifting large pieces of debris, 20 July 2014 A crane could be seen at the crash site lifting large pieces of wreckage
Rescue workers carry the body of one of the victims. Photo: 19 July 2014 The UN Security Council has called for a full and independent international investigation into the crash

Footage appeared to show one of the plane's two flight data recorders being recovered

Ukraine's government and the rebels have accused each other of shooting down the Boeing 777, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The US state department said there had been multiple reports of bodies and aircraft parts being removed, and potential evidence tampered with, by rebels.

Heavy machinery could be seen moving plane debris around at the crash site, AP news agency reported.

Separately, UK broadcaster Sky News apologised after one of its presenters was shown going through items in a suitcase belonging to one of the passengers.

Tagged body bags

Fighting is reportedly continuing in eastern Ukraine between the separatist rebels and government forces in a conflict which erupted in April and is believed to have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

In other developments

  • US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was "pretty clear" Russia had transferred a missile system to the rebels which was allegedly used to down the jet
  • Ukraine produced what it said was a recording of another intercepted call between rebels (in Russian) saying Moscow had given orders not to hand the "black boxes" to international monitors. The authenticity of the tape could not be confirmed
  • Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said talks were under way with the rebels on letting the train leave rebel territory

The freight train with its five sealed wagons has been standing at Torez railway station, 15km (nine miles) from the crash site.

The carriages, with heavy closed doors, look like refrigeration units and there is the occasional smell normally associated with dead bodies, the BBC's Richard Galpin reports from Torez.

The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mission in the region said in a tweet it had been told that 196 bodies were on the rail wagons in Torez.

An OSCE team was allowed to see three of the wagons and observed "tagged body bags", without being able to verify the figures. It's not clear where the train will take the bodies.

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At the scene: Matthew Price, BBC News, Hilversum, the Netherlands

Note written by a student to a teacher, the Netherlands, 20 July 2014 This message says: "I was really looking forward to the next school year. We will miss you."

Inside the cathedral church at Hilversum, they wipe the tears away, as the clang of bells echoes off the cold stone walls.

"Three families and one individual were ripped from our community. Thirteen people," says the deputy mayor.

The names are read out. A copy of the passenger list that the priest has printed off is laid next to a candle lit for the victims. More tears.

A woman arrives. She tells of how when the airline released the passenger manifest she looked through the names, and found out her former boss and her entire family was on board. Again, tears.

Later, outside a school, notes left by children to a teacher. "You were my favourite," says one.

And in script struggled over by a child just learning to write, a message so simple it is devastating: "Lovely Sandra. It's a shame you're dead."

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Speaking in Donetsk, the biggest rebel-held city in the east, rebel political leader Alexander Borodai reportedly said the bodies would remain in Torez until international aviation inspectors arrived.

He said they had moved the bodies "out of respect for the families", adding: "We couldn't wait any longer because of the heat and also because there are many dogs and wild animals in the area."

He also said his forces had brought the plane's "black boxes" to the city and he was supervising them personally.

Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE spokesman, told reporters that some of the other bodies from the plane could have been incinerated during the crash, AP said.

Memorials

The passenger list released by Malaysia Airlines shows the plane was carrying 193 Dutch nationals (including one with dual US nationality), 43 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons (including one with dual South African nationality), four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines, and one each from Canada and New Zealand.

Memorial services and vigils have been held in many countries, including Australia, Malaysia and the Netherlands.

Mourners attend a memorial service held for a family of five killed in the flight MH17 disaster, Melbourne, 20/07/2014 Mourners in Australia remembered locals who died, and those travelling to the city for an Aids conference
A monk performs a prayer during a special vigil for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, inside a Buddhist temple in Kuala Lumpur July 20, 2014 In Malaysia, a monk performs a prayer during a special vigil
People sign a book of condolence during a special mass in Saint Vitus church in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in Hilversum, Netherlands, 20 July 2014 A special mass was held in the Netherlands to commemorate victims of the plane crash

In a mark of respect to the dead, Malaysia Airline says it is retiring the MH17 flight number. The airline did the same for MH370, which disappeared in March with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Russia denies any involvement in the downing of the Malaysian plane, and has rejected Western allegations that it is stoking the Ukraine conflict.

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