Press statement by Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the repatriation mission
Today, exactly two weeks after the crash of flight MH17, our team has managed to reach the crash site. We are very pleased at having managed this. The team consisted of scouts who, accompanied by the OSCE, assessed the security situation along the route and inspected the crash area.
I would like here to express my sincere thanks to all those who have played such an important role in making today’s events possible.
The scouts left this morning shortly after 07:00. They travelled 198 kilometres, arriving around 14:00 at one of the search locations at the crash site and spending more than an hour there. The realisation that they were at the spot where so many people had died made a deep impression on all of us. The scouts started their journey back to Donetsk around 15:15.
It is important to keep consultations going through the OSCE with all parties concerned to ensure access to the crash area for the big group of experts, so they can recover the victims’ remains and personal belongings. As we have said before, we feel that the victims’ relatives are entitled to have their loved ones and their personal effects returned to them as soon as possible.
The security situation is still very unstable, however. That is why we are not sure if we can reach the crash site with the whole team of experts in the near future. But we are more hopeful than we were yesterday.
Tomorrow we will try once more to reach the crash area. If we succeed, the experts will carry out limited searches at a few locations in the area.
We also succeeded today in salvaging DNA samples from 25 victims. We now also have the personal belongings of 27 victims in our possession. The belongings and the DNA samples were in a mortuary in Donetsk, and have been handed over to the Dutch and Australian experts.
We are planning to bring these belongings and the DNA samples from Donetsk to Kharkiv tomorrow. There the first forensic check will be performed. We will then transport these important materials to the Netherlands as soon as possible.
I can also tell you that we have been in close contact today with the 68 Malaysian experts, who have arrived in Kyiv. Yesterday we agreed that these experts will join our mission, which now consists of Dutch, Australian and Malaysian experts. We will all continue to cooperate closely in the days to come.
In the coming days we will persist every day in trying to reach the crash site. This will only be possible to a limited extent during the first several days, on the one hand because we only have permission to have 40 to 50 experts in the area, and on the other hand because the logistic chain can only now be organised at our current location there.
You have seen that the distances to be covered are great. The long travel times required, the complexity of the terrain and the shifting security situation are major factors in determining what we can do. This means that not everything can be put in place in a few days. If we can continue to have unrestricted access to the area, I expect that in addition to our daily searches, we will have our complete operation in place by the end of the weekend.