World leaders demand thorough investigation, want those responsible to be tried if jet found to have been shot down; rebels to allow access to site
Global demands mounted yesterday to find those responsible for apparently shooting down a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held eastern Ukraine as relatives around the world mourned the deaths of the 298 people on board.
Local emergency crews picked through carnage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, placing dozens of sticks with white rags in the ground to mark where bodies lay.
The Boeing 777 came down in cornfields in the separatist-held region on Thursday, spraying debris and body parts for kilometres around, with the United States claiming it was shot down in a missile attack.
Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian forces of committing a “terrorist act” as stunned world leaders urged a full investigation into the disaster, which could further fan the flames of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
The US demanded an “unimpeded” international inquiry into the tragedy and rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s charge that Ukraine’s crackdown on separatist rebels stoked tensions that led to the crash.
“While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fuelled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” the White House said in a statement.
The father of one MH17 stewardess wept as he expressed the vain hope his daughter could be alive. “We are just hoping she survived even though we know many are dead... We pray that somehow she is safe and comes home,” Salleh Samsudin, 54, said of 31-year-old Nur Shazana Salleh on Malaysian television.
One devastated relative told how her sister Ninik Yuriani, 56 – of Indonesian descent but a Dutch national – was on her way to Jakarta to celebrate the Muslim festival Eid.
“My family is now gathered at my sister’s house in Jakarta. We’ve decided to keep this from my mother. She’s so old and weak, I don’t think she can take it,” Enny Nuraheni, 54, said.
In the Netherlands, tears welled up in the eyes of Sander Essers, who lost several relatives in the crash, as he said he had spoken to his brother just 20 minutes before he boarded.
“I can’t tell you what he told me.”
Scores of mutilated corpses and body parts were strewn around the smouldering wreckage in the village of Grabove, near the Russian border. Shocked residents of the village said the crash impact felt “like an earthquake”.
Malaysia Airlines said 283 passengers and 15 crew were aboard the plane – including at least 173 Dutch nationals, 43 Malaysians, 28 Australians and 12 Indonesians.
As many as 100 of those killed were delegates heading to Australia for a global Aids conference, the Sydney Morning Herald said.
Australian PM Tony Abbott said the crash was “not an accident, but a crime” and blasted Russia’s response as “deeply unsatisfactory”.
Local rescue workers at the scene said at least one of the plane’s black boxes had been found and mediators said rebels had committed to allowing international investigators “safe access” to the site, as President Barack Obama has warned against tampering with evidence among scattered debris.
Interpol offered its “full assistance” to help identify and repatriate corpses.
The UN Security Council called an emergency session yesterday to discuss the disaster and British Prime Minister David Cameron called a crisis meeting of top officials.
Comments attributed to a pro-Russian rebel chief suggested his men may have downed the plane by mistake, believing it to be a Ukrainian army transport aircraft. Ukraine released recordings of what they said was an intercepted call between an insurgent commander and a Russian intelligence officer, as they realised they had shot down a passenger liner.
However, the rebels accused the Ukrainian military of shooting down the plane and Russia’s defence ministry said yesterday it had data indicating that a Ukrainian missile system was operating in the area.
Putin has said Ukraine bears responsibility for the crash and said it underscored the need for a “peaceful settlement” to the Ukraine crisis in talks with Dutch PM Mark Rutte.
The disaster comes just months after Malaysia Airline’s Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 on board.
“This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia,” Malaysian PM Najib Razak told reporters early yesterday after announcing an “immediate investigation”.
Separatist leader Alexander Borodai agreed to allow investigators access to the crash site but said there was “no question of a ceasefire”.
Two US officials said that intelligence analysts were reviewing the data to see whether the missile used to down the aircraft was launched by pro-Moscow separatists, Russian troops across the border or Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk alleged yesterday that the rebels’ Russian backers had gone “too far” and called for those behind the tragedy to be tried in The Hague.