Update Prime Minister Rutte on the latest air disaster developments

On Friday afternoon Prime Minister Mark Rutte gave a press conference on the latest developments surrounding the air disaster in Ukraine. Mr Rutte reported that the team of 70 experts and OSCE staff had managed to reach the crash site this morning and carry out their work. The team have found victims’ remains and removed them from the scene. They will be transported to the Netherlands as soon as possible. In Eindhoven, they will be received with the same ceremony as the victims whose remains have already arrived in the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte:

After the successful reconnaissance mission yesterday, the repatriation team of 70 Dutch and Australian experts and OSCE staff managed to reach the crash site this morning. It’s good that we were able to work at the scene with a large team. The team has concluded its work for today. They have found victims’ remains and removed them from the crash site. We will now follow the same repatriation procedure as for those victims who have already been brought back to the Netherlands. From Kharkiv they will be flown to Eindhoven as soon as possible, where they will be received with the same ceremony as the victims whose remains arrived on 23, 24, 25 and 26 July. From there they will be transferred to Hilversum. It is not yet known when the next flight will depart.

The security situation continues to be unstable and in the past few days the team was forced to abort its attempts to reach the crash site. We are monitoring the situation continuously in order to decide on a day-to-day basis whether or not it is safe to work at the crash site. The basic principle is that if it is at all possible to work safely, they will go.

A forward operating base will be established in Soledar today, from where the experts only have a short distance to travel to do their important work. Soledar is located north west of the location where flight MH17 crashed two weeks ago. Kharkiv will continue to be the mission’s base for logistics and other services.

Our goal is to recover the victims’ remains and personal belongings as soon as possible. We believe that this move will bring us closer to that goal. Less time will be needed for travelling back and forth, leaving more time for work at the crash site.

At the moment, the mission has 332 participants from the Netherlands and Australia in Ukraine. They will be joined by 68 staff from Malaysia, who arrived in Ukraine yesterday. The mission capacity will be increased gradually. In the short term, the Netherlands can provide 60 more experts from the National Forensic Investigation Team (LTFO) and 60 members of personnel from the Royal Military and Border Police (Koninklijke Marechaussee). The latter’s capacity can later be increased if necessary.

The identification process in Hilversum is proceeding thoroughly and with great care. 207 Dutch police experts are being assisted by colleagues from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Malaysia, Brazil, South Africa and the United States.

As of 28 July, the barracks in Hilversum has been designated as a crime scene. This protects the identification process from the risk of contamination and ensures the continuity of the process. The number of victims identified will not be communicated until the next of kin and the mayor of the relevant place of residence have been informed. The identity of a second victim, a Dutch national, was established today. As soon as further identifications have been fully completed, announcements will be made accordingly. An update on the number of victims identified will be given every Friday. I should emphasise once again that the identification process could progress rapidly or take weeks or even months.

Alongside this important work, the repatriation and identification of those on board, we are also working hard on two other key priorities. The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) is investigating the circumstances surrounding the disaster. A large-scale criminal investigation is also taking place.

That is the state of affairs at this moment. I say ‘at this moment’, because the past few weeks since the terrible disaster have taught us that the situation is very unpredictable and changeable.

Our patience is being tried, in particular that of the victims’ families and the team in Ukraine: the forensic experts and the military police personnel who are carrying out this important work. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their perseverance in this exceedingly difficult situation. The same also applies to the many experts working in Hilversum, of course.

And that perseverance has already paid off. Today, 70 members of the team were able to work on our first priority: bringing back the victims and their personal belongings.

That first step has now been taken, but I must repeat that the security situation is fluid. So we will continue, every day, to decide on the basis of a thorough security analysis whether or not the team can travel to the crash site.

Finally, I have informed parliament that we will provide it with regular updates on the situation, including a letter to be sent this afternoon/early evening.