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Ukraine

First planes carrying MH17 victims' bodies depart for Netherlands

The first planes carrying bodies of passengers from a Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed in eastern Ukraine has departed for the Netherlands. Confusion remains as to the number of dead recovered from the crash site.

Passengers' remains repatriated

Two military planes, one Dutch and one Australian, carrying bodies from flight MH17 took off from Kharkiv on Wednesday, bound for a military base near the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

The aircraft left Kharkiv, a city in government control, after a somber airport ceremony where victims' bodies were loaded onto the plane in wooden coffins.

Government representatives from Ukraine, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live on Dutch television.

The Malaysian Airlines flight crashed last Thursday near the city of Donetsk in an apparent surface-to-air missile attack. Of the 298 people aboard the plane, 193 of were Dutch, and 37 were Australian citizens and residents.

During the ceremony, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said the downing of the plane was an "inhumane terrorist act" carried out with help from Russia, adding that Kyiv would bring those guilty to justice.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of relatives were expected in Eindhoven when the transport arrived. Netherlands government spokesman Lodewijk Hekking said around 60 coffins were thought to be on board, but the exact number was not confirmed.

Confusion over bodies

A refrigerated train carrying human remains reached Kharkiv on Tuesday. However, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday it was not possible to determine how many of the flight's passengers and crew were accounted for.

"It is quite possible that many bodies are still out there in the open in the European summer subject to interference and subject to the ravages of heat and animals," Abbot said.

The Dutch official in charge of the international team dealing with the dead, Jan Tuinder, said at least 200 bodies were aboard the train and that more remains could be found once the body bags were fully examined.

The wreckage landed in an area of the country controlled by pro-Russian separatists. US intelligence officials said Tuesday MH17 was likely shot down accidentally by the rebels. Russia blamed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the incident because he refused to extend a ceasefire with the separatist fighters.

Black boxes delivered to Britain

The plane's two "black box" flight data recorders were delivered to Britain for analysis, the government said Wednesday. The recorders were brought to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch headquarters in Farnborough, southwest of London.

"We can confirm that the two black boxes from MH17 have been delivered by the Dutch Safety Board to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch at Farnborough for download," a Department of Transport spokeswoman said.

dr/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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