Consular teams from the 12 nations directly affected by the shooting down of MH17 began arriving in Kiev yesterday to coordinate the grim task of retrieving and repatriating the bodies of their citizens.
Jean Dunn, Australia’s ambassador to Poland who has responsibility for Australian affairs in the region, flew into the Ukrainian capital last night and straight into high level meetings with the Ukrainian foreign ministry which went well into the early hours of today.
The mother of three and experienced career diplomat, who prior to her 2012 posting had been ambassador to Lebanon in 2010 and before that ambassador to Turkey, is to be backed by a team of other Australian consular officials arriving from today to prepare for the expected arrival in the Ukrainian capital of families of some of the 27 Australian victims.
The team will coordinate the identification and repatriation of the bodies of the victims and also assist the families anyway they can including if they chose to visit the crash site.
Teams of Dutch government officials also arrived overnight as did six investigators from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch to join the growing international probe into exactly how the plane came to crash, killing 298 people, including 10 Britons, nearly 200 Dutch passengers and 80 children.
The 62-members of the Malaysian team — comprising disaster response and rescue personnel, two accredited air crash investigators, medical experts, and representatives of the Malaysian air force, Malaysia Airlines and the country’s Department of Civil Aviation — have also begun arriving.
It is not clear yet when Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and his team of 15 investigators plan to visit the site. Privately, they are saying the area has to be made secure first and that negotiations with separatists are continuing.
At this stage, control of the crash site is still in the hands of separatist rebels with an escorted team of inspectors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) given only limited access to the scene.
“They did not have the kind of access that they expected,” chairman Thomas Greminger said. “They did not have the freedom of movement that they need to do their job.”
Invitations to assist with the investigation had been sent out by the Ukraine government to the UN, US, Malaysia, the Netherlands and European air safety bureaus and the aircraft manufacturer Boeing. The Canadian-based International Civil Aviation Organisation was also assembling a team and the US confirmed an investigator from its National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI would be dispatched to Ukraine immediately and arrive tomorrow with up to nine other colleagues expected to follow in coming days.
Their job is already hampered by the fact locals and the rebels have spent more than 48 hours sifting through the debris and indirectly tampering with potential evidence. Bodies are still strewn about the site and the Black Box flight recorders are believed to be in the hands of the rebels.
“It’s very important that unbiased international experts will be the first persons who get access to the black boxes,” said Ukraine’s UN ambassador in Geneva Yurii Klymenko.
“The issue is who will … open the boxes? We would like to have the true information, not the fake one.”
Malaysia’s newly installed Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, dealing with the MH17 atrocity in his first weeks in office, said the whereabouts of the black box was still “unconfirmed”.