KIEV, July 21 ― Australian Air Chief Marshal (Rtd) Angus Houston, who headed the search for the missing Malaysian airliner MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, is leading Australia's MH17 investigation and recovery operation.
The Australian Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said Houston had been appointed as the prime minister’s special envoy and would lead Australia’s efforts on the ground in Ukraine to help recover, identify and repatriate Australians killed in the MH17 crash.
“He will remain in Ukraine as long as necessary to complete the task,” the JACC said in a statement made available to Bernama via email today.
Australians comprised 27 of the 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH17 which crashed in eastern Ukraine while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
It is believed that the Boeing 777 was shot down but no one has claimed responsibility.
JACC said that once the international investigators were able to access the crash site, Houston would coordinate Australia’s consular, diplomatic, disaster and crash site investigation response in Ukraine.
“He will work closely with local and international authorities on consular support for the families of the Australian victims, on disaster victim identification and on the crash investigation itself,” it said.
The agency said its first priority would be to recover the remains of the victims and to secure safe and sustained access to the MH17 crash site.
In close cooperation with the Ukraine government, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other international partners, Houston would work to ensure a comprehensive investigation into the MH17 crash was swiftly underway, JACC said.
The Australian Government had so far deployed 45 officials to assist, among them 20 personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 20 Australian Federal Police Officers, two Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators and three defence officials, said the agency.
The JACC said the recovery, identification and repatriation process would be complex and would likely take a number of weeks to complete.
“This will be a difficult and painful period, and the families of the victims will have the government’s full support. Our thoughts continue to be with the families of the victims,” it said.
Houston is also JACC's chief coordinator for the recovery of the MH370 craft that disappeared from radar screens while over the South China Sea on March 8 as it was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Boeing 777 aircraft, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, is believed to have ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Australia, following an unprecedented type of analysis of satellite data by United Kingdom experts.
The search for MH370 is ongoing but no trace of the aircraft has been found yet. ― Bernama