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Sky presenter rummages through MH17 luggage

Sky News has apologised after Colin Brazier was shown looking through the personal belongings of a stricken passenger at the MH17 crash site.

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The Sky News journalist who rummaged through a child's suitcase at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has apologised, acknowledging he made a "serious error of judgment".

In an opinion piece for the UK Guardian, Colin Brazier said he was so affected by the horror of the scene that he crossed a line.

"I can smell the nauseating scent of death that clings to me still. I have seen burned bodies before...but nothing on this scale," he wrote.

Sky reporter Colin Brazier at the crash site of MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

Sky reporter Colin Brazier at the crash site of MH17 in eastern Ukraine. Photo: @RadioTimes / Twitter

Brazier described the lawlessness of the crash site where journalists and others were allowed to roam as they pleased, stepping over bodies and parts of bodies. Far away from the comfort of his usual headquarters in London, he said there was "no studio...and no obvious frame of reference".

Brazier said the TV crew's priority during the live broadcast was to avoid pointing a camera at a corpse. But personal effects, he wrote, were an alternative way to illustrate the tragedy. 

"They told a story of lives – swimming trunks, laptops, duty free, books – snuffed out in an instant. They provided the backdrop for me to ask why victims were being left to rot in the sun."

Sky reporter Colin Brazier searched through luggage at the crash site.

Sky reporter Colin Brazier searched through luggage at the crash site. Photo: Sky News

Lost in the moment, Brazier said he spotted a drinking bottle similar to one owned by his six-year-old daughter. He went toward it and picked it up, an act that outraged viewers and commentators on social media. In his Guardian piece, Brazier wrote that he had begun to cry, and that may not have been audible to online viewers.

"I bent down and, what my Twitter critics cannot hear...is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so."

Brazier said other journalists had also handled passengers' belongings on-air and he "foolishly took that as precedent". But he realised he was crossing a line and admitted "this is a mistake" live on-air.

In his apology, Brazier noted that while he had previously covered war zones and an aviation disaster, these days he is mostly desk-bound.

Thomas Mayne, brother of Leeds University student Richard Mayne who died in the crash, earlier called Brazier's actions "totally out of order".

"It’s sick and the worst example of news journalism which is sensationalising an appalling human tragedy," he said.