Dutch send plane to retrieve MH17 bodies in Ukraine

The Netherlands sent a Hercules transport plane to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv Tuesday to pick up the bodies of Malaysia Airlines crash victims that were brought to the city in refrigerated rail cars from rebel-held territory.

Flight 17, carrying 283 passengers and 15 crewmembers, crashed Thursday after being hit by what U.S. officials suspect was a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

The separatists and Russia have denied shooting down the plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The Netherlands said 193 of its citizens were on the flight.

Four rail cars delivered the remains of more than 200 of the victims while experts continue to search for the remaining bodies in a huge, debris-strewn field near the town of Hrabove, more than 200 miles southeast of Kharkiv.

In The Hague, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his government hoped to have the first bodies of victims returned to the Netherlands on Wednesday.

"it is our aim — and at the moment our expectation — that sometime tomorrow the first plane carrying victims will leave for Eindhoven," he said Tuesday.

For three days, rebels kept international teams at bay while they recovered bodies and placed them in the refrigerated cars. Rebels have since turned over the investigation and recovery operation to international forensics experts.

Dutch investigators were first allowed to inspect the remains Monday in the rail cars before they left the town of Torez, near Hrabove.

The train was met in Kharkiv by police forensic experts as well as representatives of countries whose citizens were aboard the ill-fated plane.

Under mounting world pressure, pro-Russian rebels also handed over data-filled "black boxes" from the Boeing 777 to Malaysian officials.

A senior separatist leader, Aleksander Borodai, gave the data recorders to a Malaysian delegation early Tuesday in the city of Donetsk, a rebel stronghold.

"Here they are, the black boxes," Borodai said at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Reuters reported.

Col. Mohamed Sakri of the Malaysian National Security Council told the meeting the two black boxes were "in good condition."

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution unanimously calling for an international investigation into the downing of Flight 17.

At the White House, President Obama called on Russia on Monday to get separatists to stop hampering the crash investigation and allow international experts free access to the crash site.

"The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site," he said. "All of which begs the question: What are they trying to hide?"

Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "a direct responsibility" to compel the separatists to cooperate with the investigation. "That's the least they can do," he said.

Putin said Monday that his government was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, to investigate the scene. He criticized the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev for reigniting fighting with rebels.

"We repeatedly called upon all conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed immediately and sit down at the negotiating table," Putin said. "I can say with confidence that if military operations were not resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy wouldn't have happened."

Contributing: Filip Warwick in Torez, Ukraine, William Welch in Los Angeles; The Associated Press


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