Rebels hand over black boxes

Updated: 2014-07-23 07:33

By Agencies in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (China Daily USA)

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Truce declared at crash zone, international teams allowed to investigate flight MH17

Malaysia said on Tuesday it would hold the voice and data recorders from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 until an international team is formed and will then hand them over.

"The Malaysian team has taken custody of the black boxes, which appear to be in good condition. They will be held securely in Malaysian custody while the international investigation team is being formalized," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement.

"At that time, we will pass the black boxes to the international investigation team for further analysis."

He made the statement after rebels controlling the crash site of flight MH17 handed over the plane's black boxes on Tuesday and declared a localized truce to allow international experts full access to the site in east Ukraine.

Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, oversaw both black boxes, which record cockpit activity and flight data, being handed to Malaysian officials in front of scores of journalists.

Borodai also announced a cease-fire within 10 kilometers of the site hours after authorities in Kiev said they would halt all fighting in the zone.

On Monday, his rebel forces had allowed Dutch forensic experts to examine the bodies, kept in refrigerated train cars away from the sweltering summer heat.

International monitors were also finally allowed to examine the vast crash site, littered with poignant fragments from hundreds of destroyed lives.

Despite the apparent progress in getting the investigation going, leaders warned the rebels' handling of the crash site had already done much damage.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country lost 28 citizens and nine residents in the crash, said: "There is still a long, long way to go."

Experts from Malaysia Airlines, reeling from its second disaster in only four months, after Flight MH370 went missing in the Indian Ocean, said the black boxes were "intact with only minor damage".

"We have not found the black boxes from Flight MH370, so (we) are happy to be able to recover these," said a member of the team.

The struggling airline, meanwhile, had to defend itself late Monday after confirming it had diverted a flight from Ukrainian to Syrian airspace.

"The Syrian airspace was not subject to restrictions," the flag carrier said in a statement.

Coming home

The first bodies from MH17 will be flown to the Netherlands on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow the first plane (with bodies) will leave for Eindhoven," in the southern Netherlands, Rutte said.

"Preparations will be made in Kharkiv so that identification can be done in the Netherlands as well as possible," Rutte said. "As soon as a victim is identified first and foremost the family will be informed and no one else. That can take weeks or months."

Dutch investigators leading a probe into the disaster were preparing to take charge of the bodies of 280 victims, 193 of them Dutch, that have arrived by train in the government-controlled city of Kharkiv.


 Rebels hand over black boxes

A Ukrainian rebel shows a "black box" belonging to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 before handing it over to Malaysian representatives in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

 Rebels hand over black boxes

A satellite image, released by DigitalGlobe, shows the crash site of MH17 in Ukraine. DigitalGlobe-Reuters

(China Daily USA 07/23/2014 page1)