Kiev/Kuala Lumpur: Ukrainian investigators have found 196 bodies at the crash site where a Malaysian passenger plane carrying 298 people was brought down by a missile in pro-Russia rebels-held eastern part of the country.
The Ukrainian State Emergency Service (SES) today said 380 staff were taking part in the search that stretches across 34 sq km of eastern Ukraine.
But the search was being complicated by separatists at the site who were hindering the work of SES units, the CNN reported, citing SES officials.
The Boeing 777 was on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and it had not made a distress call. It is still not clear if the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down purposely or mistakenly on Thursday.
All 298 people on board were killed in the crash. Latest figures released by Malaysia Airlines show the plane was carrying 192 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines, and one each from Canada and New Zealand.
The Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country have blamed each other for the alleged shooting down of the plane.
Earlier, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it had doubts over the number of bodies recovered from the downed MH17 or where they were taken or who moved them.
Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for observers from of the OSCE, told CNN the group saw men moving an unknown number of body bags yesterday, but that it wasn't clear who they were.
It's hard to get reliable information because several groups of pro-Russian rebels, some of them masked, control the area, he said, adding “there doesn't seem to be one commander in charge.”
Three air crash investigators from Ukraine accompanied the OSCE observers but they didn't have much time to do their work, he said. “They need a lot more time and a lot more freedom of access.”
“Our main purpose is to collect the facts to share them with the participating OSCE states and to report them to the media. We are looking at security of the perimeter of the crash site, the condition and status of the debris, the bodies and personal belongings,” Bociurkiw said.
As the blame game continued with Russia accusing the US and the West of pointing fingers at it to push their Ukraine agenda, a team of Malaysian investigators arrived in Kiev to try and get to the bottom of what happened to the aircraft.
As calls for an independent investigation into the downing of the jet grew louder, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed for an international probe.
The two leaders, who spoke on the telephone, “agreed that an international, independent commission under the direction of ICAO (UN's International Civil Aviation Organization) should quickly have access to the site of the accident... to shed light on the circumstances of the crash and move the victims,” a German government statement said.
Kiev also accused Russia of helping pro-Moscow rebels of trying to destroy evidence in the downing of the aircraft. It complained that “the terrorists” had taken 38 bodies to a morgue in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. It said the rebels were also trying to transport the plane's wreckage to Russia.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today said the crash site was “absolutely chaotic” as he feared interference with the evidence. Twenty-eight Australians were on the flight. Abbott said recovering the bodies was a priority.
“The difficulty is that site is chaotic, it's absolutely chaotic,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The kinds of things that would normally be happening in an air crash site are not happening.”
Abbott said several attempts to reach the wreckage, which is strewn across a large area, were hampered by the conflict.
“This just makes it absolutely imperative, imperative, that Australia do everything we can to recover the bodies, to ensure that the site is secured, a proper investigation is done, and then justice is secured,” he added. Abbott said Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had invited Australia to “fully participate” in the investigation, and to be part of the body recovery operation.
“My fear is that Russia will say the right thing, but that on the ground interference with the site, interference with investigators, interference with the dignified treatment of bodies will continue,” he added.