cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:02:25 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: Black boxes handed to aviation experts as UN urges probe



A pro-Russian fighter places a black box from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on a table while handing it over from Donetsk People's Republic officials to Malaysian representatives in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

A pro-Russian fighter places a black box from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on a table while handing it over from Donetsk People's Republic officials to Malaysian representatives in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

A senior pro-Russian separatist leader in Ukraine has handed over flight recorders from the airliner downed over the eastern part of the country to Malaysian experts in the city of Donetsk.

"Here they are, the black boxes," Alexander Borodai told a room packed with journalists early on Tuesday at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk.

- LIVE BLOG | On mobile? Follow the story here

Both sides then signed a document, which Borodai said was a protocol to finalize the procedure.

Col. Mohamed Sakri of the Malaysian National Security Council told the meeting the two black boxes were "in good condition."

The handover came after refrigerated train cars transported the bodies of victims in the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane disaster to another eastern Ukraine city on Monday. That same afternoon, the United Nations unanimously backed a resolution calling for a "full, thorough and independent international investigation" of the disaster.

The train was headed for the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and from there, the victims' remains were to be flown to Amsterdam.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said he had reached an agreement with Borodai that will allow international investigators "safe access" to the crash site.

"We need to know what caused the plane to crash and who was responsible for it, so that justice can be done," Razak said at a news conference near Kuala Lumpur. 

Delayed access to site frustrates nations

The prime minister said the agreement in "good faith" must now be followed by action in order to ensure the victims' bodies are handled with respect.

"For the families, nothing can undo this damage,” he said. “The lives taken cannot be given back. The dignity lost can’t be regained. My heart reaches out to those whose loved ones were taken on MH17.”

The reluctance by pro-Russia separatists who control the region where the plane crashed Thursday to allow international observers and investigators to examine the wreckage and seal off the site fanned widespread international outrage, especially from the nations whose citizens were aboard the plane.

"What exactly are they trying to hide?" U.S. President Barack Obama asked, after the U.S. presented what it called "powerful" evidence that the rebels had shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile.

Later in the day, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously in favour of an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the Ukraine plane crash site and a ceasefire around the area.

The resolution condemns the downing of the plane in Ukraine. The Security Council demands that those responsible be held to account and that armed groups refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the site.

Canada strongly condemned the downing of the airliner on Monday in a statement at the UN Security Council, calling for "an immediate, comprehensive, credible and unimpeded" probe.

"Time is of the essence, and it is vital that the pro-Russian groups currently in control of the crash site impede neither the work of investigative teams, nor efforts to recover and to repatriate the remains of the victims," the statement read.

In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander said he had met with families and friends of Dutch citizens who were killed in a disaster that "has left a deep wound in our society."

"The scar will be visible and tangible for years to come," he said. Of the 298 passengers killed in the flight, 193 were Dutch citizens.

Meanwhile, in Eastern Ukraine, fresh fighting marked by explosions in Donetsk — about 60 kilometres from the MH17 crash site— added to the tension Monday.

"International investigators say they won't come here unless they are guaranteed safe passage," the CBC's Susan Ormiston reported from the crash site.

A team of Dutch forensic experts and monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) inspected the bodies Monday, Ormiston reported, and said they were still in good condition.

The scene remains "sobering," Ormiston said, with long prairie-like fields still strewn with debris from the downed plane, including wallets, handbags and even a child's note about the airplane food.

- PHOTOS | Mourning for victims of MH17

- IN DEPTH | FAQs: Surface-to-air missiles

Speaking to CBC's Amanda Lang on The National, Michael Bociurkiw, a Canadian working with the OSCE in Ukraine, described "an eeriness" around the crash site that had not previously been felt, as emergency workers who had been combing the fields for days were suddenly absent.

"We couldn't really connect the dots and figure out why that had happened, but we did report on it and put it in our notes tonight," Bociurkiw said.

He added that Dutch experts at the site "were quite pleased" with the way the bodies were being handled when they were placed into refrigerated train cars to be shipped further east.

Emergency workers piled 21 more body bags from the blackened crash site by the side of the road Monday in Grabovo. That brought the total found to 272 of the 298 passengers and crew killed in the tragedy, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Explosions shake Donetsk

In Donetsk, people fled as minibuses brought dozens of rebels into the city centre. The rebels said Ukrainian forces were trying to force them out, days after the Malaysian airliner was brought down about 60 kilometres away.

"It is dangerous near the railway station!" the Donetsk city council said in a statement on its website, asking residents in the area to stay indoors.

It said a nine-storey house had been damaged in the shelling and that transport had been halted in the area.

"In the morning there were explosions. People are extremely worried," said a local resident who gave her name as Natalya.

Donetsk is at the heart of a rebel uprising against rule by Kyiv, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to retake the city as part of what his government calls an "anti-terrorist operation" against the separatists.

Correction : A previous headline for this story erroneously described the Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv as being in the hands of Ukrainian rebels. In fact, Kharkiv is controlled by Ukraine.(Jul 21, 2014 4:07 PM)

more video