MH17 air disaster: where did the mission carry out its search?
Between 1 and 6 August the repatriation mission worked at the MH17 crash site, with the aim of recovering as many human remains and personal belongings as possible and returning them to the Netherlands.
Where did the mission carry out its search?
The search area was approximately 60 km2. The Dutch and Australian specialists began by making a thorough analysis to determine which locations to search first, using all relevant knowledge and resources available to them, including satellite images and a Geographic Information System (GIS). The search areas were selected on the basis of this analysis, as well as the accessibility and safety of the locations. In deciding which areas to search next, the experts also took into account the result of previous days’ searches.
Search work was carried out for a total of 20 hours over six days. Not all of the chosen areas were searched, because in some cases the experts were not granted access or the security risks were too great. Some of the areas had also been completely burnt out. Some 800 Ukrainians – individuals who are generally deployed in response to local disasters and other incidents, led by a colonel from the medical corps – had previously recovered human remains and personal belongings.
The mission focused specifically on areas that it suspected had not yet been searched – or fully searched – by the Ukrainians. Local sources confirm that the Ukrainians had already recovered remains and personal belongings from inaccessible areas and areas to which the mission was not granted access. This work was carried out in a more careful and professional manner than was initially assumed. No search was conducted in the North-West cluster (see map) because this was regarded as too dangerous. The experts’ assessment was that it was unlikely that remains would be found there, partly in view of the locations where bodies had previously been found.
How was the search conducted?
The areas were searched by teams of experts aided by tracker dogs. When the experts made a find, it was marked and then handled in accordance with the established procedures. Personal belongings were taken if they were relevant for identification purposes (based on forensic standards) or considered to be of possible sentimental value to the next of kin. For example, cuddly toys were taken, but any magazines or items of clothing found strewn in the area were not.
What was the result of the search?
Human remains and personal belongings were found during the search period. No complete bodies were found. There were no further finds in areas from which the local population had already recovered bodies. In the areas searched, personal belongings and open luggage were found, from which items had been removed by unknown parties. The luggage and items in the wagon (which was located in Torez) seemed to have been untouched; the same applies to most of the items returned by Ukrainians.
The local population was very helpful. On 6 August the mission distributed flyers to local residents asking them to hand over any personal belongings and share any information that they might still have. A few people handed over belongings in response to this. The forensic and disaster identification experts from the international team that was investigating in the area believe there is not a substantial chance of finding complete bodies or larger body parts in the area. DNA traces can be secured even after a longer period of time has passed.
What happens now?
The search has been suspended, but not yet completed. A small group of experts is staying behind in Kyiv and Kharkiv to ensure that any items found or returned by the local population in the period ahead are brought back to the Netherlands. Those remaining behind must also ensure that work can be resumed quickly as soon as the security situation permits.