Press statement by Pieter-Jaap Aalbergsberg, head of the recovery mission

Over a hundred international police officers and experts continued their search and recovery work today at the site where flight MH17 crashed two weeks ago. We are very grateful that all parties involved have been working to making this possible.

Today, I visited the new base in Soledar with high representatives of the Australian and the Malaysian authorities. The police officers and experts are receiving support from Ukrainian volunteers. They are working hard to assist us in every way. Immediately after the crash many local civilians provided assistance at the crash site, helping to recover human remains. We are still very grateful for that help. It is heart-warming to see that Ukrainians are still actively helping us more than two weeks after the crash.

Our own people are also firmly committed to this mission. There are one hundred team members in Soledar at any given time. There is a rotation schedule in place for them. Every day, fifty well rested colleagues arrive from Kharkiv and fifty others leave to go to Kharkiv to recuperate. This also happened today. We trust that roster will enable the police officers and experts to stay sharp so that they can continue their physically and psychologically taxing work.

Today the Australian and Malaysian representatives and I consulted with Commander Kees Kuijs, who is leading the field operations. We discussed the local situation, the activities of the mission and its progress. We also spoke about the experiences of the police and the experts in the field.

Today, I also travelled to Kharkiv. That is where the forensics specialists carry out the primary forensic check of the recovered remains and personal belongings. They do everything in their power to ensure that the human remains and personal belongings can be transferred to the Netherlands as soon as possible. The first flight leaves tomorrow. This flight will transport what was recovered on Friday and Saturday, and the DNA material that was stored in a mortuary in Donetsk.

We expect that there will be more flights to the Netherlands in the near future. We realise that relatives have to wait a long time before they receive any confirmation. We hope that the knowledge that we are doing everything we can here in Ukraine will bring them some comfort.

Today a group of 109 people worked in a field north of the village of Rozsypne. The team included 54 Dutch and 34 Australian forensic specialists, 88 in total. They searched for almost six hours in a field containing pieces of wreckage. The location is about 3.5 kilometres west of the farm where the recovery work has been done over the last two days.

With the help of some maps, I shall now indicate where the search has been performed.

Conditions are tough for the police officers and experts, especially the heat in the open field. They managed to search an area of about six square kilometres. Personal belongings of the victims were found and recovered. No human remains were found.

Personal belongings were also recovered today in Torez, south of the crash site. Luggage of the victims was being stored in a train wagon placed there a while ago. Thanks to the negotiations performed by the OSCE, we succeeded today to reach the wagon. The seal on the wagon was still intact and the suitcases, bags and cameras inside seemed untouched. The personal belongings were taken to Soledar. From there, they will be transferred to Kharkiv.

We hope to get to the crash site again tomorrow, but that will depend on the security situation. For the first time, our Malaysian colleagues will be joining our team in the search. The team aims to search two fields in the western part of the crash site. We remain fully motivated to continue the search in the coming days.