Rescue teams gathered body bags and left them by the roadside for collection on Saturday. (Source: CNN)
A map shows the path of the ill-fated flight, which was shot down over rebel-held Ukrainian air space on Thursday. (Source: CNN)
An image of the train used to house bodies thought to be victims of MH 17 crash in Ukraine. (Source: CNN)
A satellite image shows the crash site. The images cover a 1,3000-square-foot area. (Source: Airbus DS/AllSource Analysis/CNN)
(RNN/CNN) - Some of the bodies recovered from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are on a refrigerated train, on their way back to their loved ones.
This comes after President Barack Obama demanded to the Russian-back separatist to allow investigators on the ground access to the crash site to allow those who died to rest with dignity and be reunited with their loved ones.
"Time is of the essence - our friends and allies need to be able to recover those who are lost - that what decency demands," Obama said from the White House Rose Garden.
The president also called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to use its influence over the pro-Russian rebels to allow investigators to the crash site. The president also expressed anger that bodies were being moved "without the care and dignity one would expect in a tragedy like this."
"This begs the question, what are they trying to hide?" Obama asked.
His words come after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke at length on CNN about the war with Russia and the condition at the crash site. Poroshenko compared the downing of the plane to the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight in 1988.
Obama also demanded that Putin and Russia needs to re-evaluate the road they've taken with the international community, and give Ukraine its sovereignty
Recovery teams have recovered 233 of the 298 bodies of who died when the plane exploded over eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press reported on Sunday, but the separatists are still making it difficult for investigators.
"Our immediate focus is recovering those who were lost and investigating what happened and the facts, we have to make sure the truth will out," Obama said.
Some bodies have been moved onto refrigerated train cars near the crash site for preservation, CNN reported, though it was unclear if those bodies were among the 196 that had been recovered.
Airplane parts have also been moved from the crash site, reports indicated.
Malaysia Airlines announced on Sunday that it will retire the MH17 flight code "out of respect for our crew and passengers" as of Friday.
Since the plane was shot down, reportedly by a surface-to-air missile from Ukraine on Thursday, the armed and largely uncooperative pro-Russian separatists have largely blocked access to the nine-mile crash site deep within the rebel-held territory. Reports from the scene earlier suggested that the site was being extensively tampered with, and the human remains were being left out in the elements to decompose.
According to the Ukrainian government, the rebels were looting the bodies in addition to removing parts of the plane, but CNN reporters did not see any looting at the disaster site.
Malaysia Airlines said 154 victims were Dutch, 43, including the crew, were Malaysian and 28 were Australian. Other passengers hailed from the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada.
The American on board has been identified as Quinn Lucas Schansman, who was born in the U.S. but moved to the Netherlands as a child, according to the Associated Press. He was 19 years old.
Many of the passengers were AIDS researchers headed to Australia for an international conference, and the United Nations said 80 of the victims were children.
World leaders are expressing outrage toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin, which some are holding responsible for the tragedy.
“You should say if this was a mistake, which I hope it was, say it,” Sen. Diane Feinstein, D – chair, Intelligence Committee, said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Even if it was a mistake, it's a horrendous mistake to make, and I think it points out the futility of what's happening in the Ukraine.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in The Sunday Times that he supported tightening the sanctions against Russia in retaliation for the disaster, which claimed the lives of 10 British passengers.
Cameron said, according to the BBC, "if President Putin does not change his approach on Ukraine, then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia."
In addition, the BBC reported that UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said the nation will indeed work to convince the European Union to levy stronger sanctions.
UK ambassador Mark Lyall Grant pointed the finger of blame at Russia, saying the country is responsible for arming separatists.
"Let us hear today clear and unequivocal condemnation from Russia for the actions of these armed groups. These armed groups do not represent the people of Ukraine. Without Russian support, they would wither," Grant said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to force the rebels to allow full access to the crash site. Nearly two-thirds of those aboard the jetliner, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, were Dutch.
"I want to see results in the form of unimpeded access and rapid recovery," Rutte said in a Saturday press briefing. "This is now priority No. 1."
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said during an emotional briefing on Saturday that he will fly to Kiev as well to help ensure the team of experts gets access to the crash site. He said the Ukrainian government has promised a safe corridor to eastern Ukraine. But it is unclear what the Malaysian investigators will be able to accomplish with the crash site being under the firm control of pro-Russian separatists.
“Citizens of 11 nations - none of whom are involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine - cannot be laid to rest,” he said. “Their lives were taken by violence; now violence stops them being accorded their final respect. This cannot continue.”
Backed by Malaysia’s demand for a thorough investigation and justice for those responsible, a team of 131 Malaysian investigators arrived in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Saturday.
Malaysia's Tiong Lai expressed concern about evidence tampering.
“Interfering with the scene of the crash risks undermining the investigation itself,” Tiong Lai said. “Any actions that prevent us from learning the truth about what happened to MH17 cannot be tolerated.”
He again defended the flight path over Ukraine, noting that dozens of planes had taken the same path days before the tragedy.
Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, says the airspace was closed up to 32,000 feet, but "was open at the level at which the aircraft was flying." The airspace is now closed until further notice and "all flight plans that are filed using these routes are now being rejected by Eurocontrol."
According to the European Cockpit Association, the route being flown by the plane "is the most common route for flights from Europe to South East Asia."
On Friday, 25 monitors from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were given limited access for about 75 minutes to a small part of the crash scene in eastern Ukraine. They said they witnessed decomposing bodies among the huge debris field before they were chased off by separatist militia.
Ukrainian officials say the plane’s black boxes are still on Ukrainian soil, but not in their hands, the report said.
Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE, told CNN that there did not seem to be anyone in control of the situation. The militia members also could not answer what happened to the plane's black boxes.
"It basically looks like the biggest crime scene in the world right now, guarded by a bunch of guys in uniform with heavy firepower who are quite inhospitable," Bociurkiw said.
Russia, Ukraine trade blame
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the tragedy in an address from the Kremlin on Sunday, appearing to take issue with criticism toward Russia
"However, no one should have the right to use this tragedy to achieve selfish political objectives," he said. Such events should not divide but unite people. It is necessary that all the people who are responsible for the situation in the region, would direct their responsibility to their own people and to the peoples of those countries whose representatives have been victims of this disaster."
He encouraged cooperation with the recovery efforts on the ground in eastern Ukraine.
"It is absolutely necessary that team of experts under supervision of ICAO, the competent international commission would be conducting work on the site," he said. "We must do everything to ensure their work has full and absolute security, ensure necessary humanitarian corridors are provided."
U.S. intelligence said that the surface-to-air missile that brought down the plane was fired from inside Ukraine, but the perpetrators would have required help from Russia to fire the missiles.
"Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the system," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. Security council Friday.
Power told the Security Council "there was nothing threatening or provocative about MH17" as it flew over Ukrainian airspace and says the U.S. has concluded the plane was likely hit by an SA-11 missile.
CNN reported that there is video released by the Ukrainian government showing a Buk missile system crossing the border back into Russia with one missile missing, and the Ukrainian government points to that video as evidence that Russia is heavily involved with the separatists.
Russia President Vladimir Putin asked Friday for both sides in the conflict to lay down their arms and have peace talks.
Pro-Russian separatists in control of the area have provided conflicting information on the rescue. Separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai said no black boxes had been recovered from the plane, according to the Associated Press. However, an aide to Borodai's group said eight of 12 recording devices had been found.
The AP report stated planes usually carry only two black boxes.
Ukraine Security Service released intercepted audio they claimed to be a phone call between pro-Russian militants shortly after the crash, as well as a translated transcript. The men in the call said they had shot down the plane thinking it was a military aircraft.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko called it the result of a "terrorist action."
"Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said.
Rebels said they did not shoot down the plane and blamed the Ukrainian government.
Tuesday, January 17 2017 10:37 AM EST2017-01-17 15:37:12 GMT
Tuesday, January 17 2017 10:37 AM EST2017-01-17 15:37:12 GMT
Ukraine has filed a case against Russia at the United Nations' highest court, accusing Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea and illicitly funding separatist rebel groups. Kiev also is seeking compensation for...More >>
Ukraine has filed a case against Russia at the United Nations' highest court, accusing Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea and illicitly funding separatist rebel groups in eastern Ukraine.More >>