Hrabove, Ukraine: The first Australian investigators to visit the MH17 crash site near here were in a small investigative party that discovered new sections of the crashed Malaysian Airways aircraft and human remains that had been overlooked in earlier, much-criticised sweeps of the area.
The three Australians – two diplomats and a forensic expert – refused to talk to reporters. But an official of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Michael Bukiurkiw, said after guiding them through the crash site: “We found human remains yesterday and more again today.”
Thursday’s finds – including a substantial section of the fuselage with windows and seats intact – were made as huge combine harvesters worked their way through crops in the fields up and down the crash site. The harvesting continues apace, despite renewed concern that as many as 100 of the 298 passengers and crew from Flight MH17 remain unaccounted for.
Clearly frustrated by the slow rate at which foreign experts are visiting the site, Bukiurkiw said: “We’re recording a lot of random fuselage and personal belongings. It is striking, even for hardened professionals, to encounter a section of the aircraft that you don’t recognise and then there is a passenger’s seat and a child’s game.”
After the team had spent about five hours in three different sections of the sprawling crash scene that foreign experts were visiting for the first time, the OSCE official pointed to a large clump of trees, saying: “Some of the finds over there are extraordinary… and the Malaysians who were with us observed that the heat was so intense that the aluminium wing sections of this 17-year-old aircraft actually melted.”
Seeming to imply that others were not doing their job, Mr Bukiurkiw said of his small, operational ground force: “We continue to do our job; we record what we find and we report it to the appropriate individuals.”
Asked why newly discovered human remains were being flagged, but not collected, he said: “We’re covering a lot of ground with a small group of people.”
He said that access to the rebel-controlled site was getting better day by day and while diplomatically side-stepping questions as to why he and his colleagues could be on the ground while governments around the world worried about the safety of their crash investigative teams, he said pointedly: “The Malaysians told us they feel safe…and there are people better placed than us to do this work.
“I don’t know why the investigators are not here – you’ll have to ask them.”
He described security in the crash zone as ‘very fluid’ – “but we are doing frequent analysis, based on input from very good people.”
The Australians had advised him that they were in the area just for a day to make an assessment.