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Originally published July 24, 2014 at 7:31 PM | Page modified July 25, 2014 at 6:46 AM

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Ukraine disaster in search of an investigation

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was blown out of the sky one week ago on Thursday, thrusting at least 10 countries whose citizens were on board into the middle of a war between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russia rebels. Yet there is no sign of an investigation.


The New York Times

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GRABOVO, Ukraine — The rescue workers have left, and their tents are gone. The peppermint-striped plastic cordon flutters uselessly in the breeze. Farmers are harvesting wheat in a field where bodies had lain.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was blown out of the sky one week ago Thursday, deepening tensions between Russia and the West and thrusting at least 10 countries whose citizens were on board into the middle of a war between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russia rebels, who Western intelligence officials suspect shot the plane down.

Yet for all the diplomatic frenzy that has followed the disaster, there is no sign of an investigation here.

At the field in Ukraine where the exploded remnants landed, there are no guards and no recovery workers, no police officers and no investigators.

Early Thursday evening, there were almost no people — just two curious 12-year-old girls looking at part of the tail of the Boeing 777.

The lack of an on-the-ground investigation — and for that matter a demarcated crime scene — is perhaps not that surprising given that the plane went down in what is essentially a no man’s land where pro-Russia rebels have declared their own state.

The rebels who have power in these lands have gone back to their war, uninterested in a disaster that has riveted the world.

U.S. intelligence officials had said that these fields could hold important clues to the plane’s downing, such as pieces of the ordnance used to shoot it down or patterns of damage it might have caused.

But it is not clear whether international investigators will be able to come, and if they do, whether much will be left to look at after weather and time take their toll.

“There’s no one out here,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose monitoring mission has been on the site every day since Friday. As for the arrival of international experts, “It’s not like our door is being broken down.”

The investigation is most likely stuck in the same high politics that delayed the removal of the bodies of the 298 passengers and crew members from eastern Ukraine.

The rebels refuse to deal with Ukraine’s pro-Western government, leaving it unable to respond. Then there is the problem of dealing directly with separatists who are at war with Ukraine’s government.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia on Thursday ruled out negotiating with the pro-Russia rebels, saying that “we recognize the authority of the Ukraine government over the Ukrainian territory,” as well as the authority of the United Nations.

The fields are not far from the battle zone, so security is also a problem. A group of 25 investigators led by the Netherlands, where the flight originated from, are eager to get to the site, but safety concerns have left them waiting in Kiev, Ukraine, since Friday.

Sara Vernooij, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Safety Bureau, the agency in charge of the investigation, said the experts “have been investigating satellite images, photos and video clips and have interviewed those who have been on the site itself.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands announced that 40 unarmed Dutch police officers would accompany the investigators to the site. But it was unclear how these officers would protect the team in a combat zone where security officials from a NATO country could be viewed with suspicion.

Some crucial questions about the disaster are unlikely to be answered at the crash site. U.S. officials have said that based on calculations of its trajectory, the missile was fired from inside eastern Ukraine, and intelligence officials suspect that Russia gave the rebels the missile system used to shoot down Flight 17.

The Dutch Safety Bureau said in a statement that an initial examination showed that both of Flight 17’s so-called black boxes had been damaged, but that their memory chips were intact.

The bureau added that there was “no evidence or indications of manipulation” of either the cockpit voice recorder or the flight data recorder, and that the data from both had been downloaded by experts from Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch in Farnborough, England.

The cockpit voice recorder normally contains the last two hours of pilot conversations and other cockpit sounds, including any alarms that would have sounded as the plane’s flight systems failed.

The data recorder tracks hundreds of different statistics, including the plane’s position, speed, altitude and direction.

The Dutch board said the data from both recorders would be synchronized and analyzed, but it did not indicate when it expected to make its findings public.

The Dutch board said it was confident that both the black boxes and the debris on the ground would yield “sufficient relevant information” to determine the circumstances of the crash.

But as is common with technical inquiries, investigators said their aim would not be to apportion blame.

The board said it would conduct a separate investigation into the process that led aviation authorities to decide that the area in eastern Ukraine where Flight 17 crashed was safe for civilian aircraft to fly over.



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