Press statement by Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of mission

The international police officers and experts were confronted with arduous circumstances today. They left their base in Soledar around eight in the morning. Within two hours they reached the crash site. Upon arrival shooting was heard. On the OSCE’s advice, the team waited several hours before travelling onwards to the search location.

The security of our police officers and experts is of the utmost importance to this mission. Before we start work, we need three positive signals. The first is the security analysis by the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The second is the OSCE’s advice. The OSCE consults all the parties involved on our behalf. The final signal is given by the field commander, Colonel Kees Kuijs. If one of the signals is negative, the search teams will not proceed.

Today’s situation illustrates once more that this mission is conducted in a contested area, where parties involved are still fighting. Access to the crash site is never hundred percent guaranteed.

At two thirty it was safe to continue the journey. The experts searched in and around the village of Petropavlivka. This is one of the two locations that we planned to search today. In total, over 100 people were at the scene for around one and a half hours. Among them 34 Australian experts, 54 Dutch experts and 14 Malaysian experts. They succeeded in recovering personal belongings, such as passport and photo albums.

Today was the first day the Malaysian experts were part of the team. A short remembrance service was held for the victims on arrival at the crash site. The Malaysians offered their prayers.

It is good that Australia, the Netherlands and Malaysia are jointly involved in this mission. Our nations’ shared grief strengthens our combined efforts. Our goal is still to recover as many human remains and personal belongings as possible and return them to the next of kin.

Today, unfortunately, the search at this location in the western part of the crash site could not be completed. If the security situation permits it, the experts will continue their efforts at the same location tomorrow. The experts will also try to search the field north of this site.