KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 — After over 12 days of exposure to looters, amateur searchers, and now debris from nearby battles, experts on the ground believe that evidence from MH17’s crash site in eastern Ukraine may be too contaminated to be of much use to investigators.
According to CNN, one frustrated official labelled the site “one of the biggest open crime scenes in the world” after a team of Dutch and Australian investigators were forced to turn back yesterday due to nearby clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists.
The 45-member team, which was accompanied by officials from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), were left frustrated by the fighting which, according to reports from wire agencies, may have destroyed parts of the site where the aircraft’s remains still lie.
AFP reported Vladimir Antyufeev, the self-styled deputy chief of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” as saying that the Ukrainian army has now “taken over part of the crash site”.
The situation on the ground now “is very complicated, it is not a secret”, the rebel leader added, AFP added.
OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told CNN that on-site experts are growing “sick and tired” of being delayed.
“We all know there are still human remains out there exposed to the elements, number one.
“Secondly, it is one of the biggest open crime scenes in the world as we speak, and it is not secured. There’s no security perimetre around the 30— or 35-square-kilometre site,” he was quoted saying on the news channel’s website.
The Dutch and Australian team was forced to turn back yesterday despite a weekend agreement between Malaysia and the rebels at the crash site which sought to secure the area and protect investigators by allowing entry to police personnel.
But a senior air-safety official said the wreckage may now be “long past contamination”, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported today, and investigators may have to rely on a broader range of evidence to determine how the aircraft came down.
Among others, investigators could examine satellite imagery and the flight’s radar tracks, apart from information gleaned from the plane’s black boxes.
According to WSJ, Dutch authorities believe they can find out what happened to the plane and who should be held responsible for the crash.
“They also have talked about the likelihood of conducting some type of criminal investigation to punish the guilty,” the international newspaper reported.
But, the paper noted, air-safety experts have maintained that recovering the plane’s fuselage could provide an important insight to the crash prove, through metallurgical and chemical analyses.
Without guaranteed security for crash investigators, however, the process of retrieving parts of the fuselage may be near impossible.
On CNN, Bociurkiw said the team will attempt again to access the site today.
“We will keep trying every day,” he said.
A broadcast channel reported that its media team had been part of yesterday’s convoy into the site but had to turn back on orders from armed men near Shakhtorsk. They were followed shortly after by a group of forensic experts.
Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH17, a commercial jetliner ferrying 298 civilians from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on July 17.
Western governments and Ukraine have insisted that the Boeing 777 aircraft had been shot down by a Buk missile system operated by the Russia-backed rebels controlling Donetsk. The rebels, however, have accused Ukrainian forces for shooting down the Malaysian plane.