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Updated: Wed, 23 Jul 2014 09:30:17 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: Victims’ bodies headed to Netherlands



Honour guards take part in a ceremony with coffins of some of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 downed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine before they are being loaded on to a transport plane heading to the Netherlands at Kharkiv airport July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich (© UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TRANSPORT DISASTER)

Honour guards take part in a ceremony with coffins of some of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 downed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine before they are being loaded on to a transport plane heading to the Netherlands at Kharkiv airport July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TRANSPORT DISASTER) - RTR3ZRRI Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Two military aircraft carrying the first bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash left the embattled plains of eastern Ukraine today, bringing some consolation to grieving relatives still waiting for positive identifications and answers about who downed the jet.

The Dutch government declared a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies in the afternoon. All 298 people — most of them Dutch citizens — aboard the Boeing 777 were killed when it was downed near Donetsk last Thursday.

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- WATCH | Dutch victims' families share grief, anger

In Ukraine, CBC senior correspondent Susan Ormiston said it was an emotional scene as an honour guard loaded the bodies onto transport planes, restoring some of the dignity that was lost as they sat for days in plastic bags on a refrigerated train.

​Ukraine and western nations are pressing the pro-Russian rebels who control the crash site to allow an unfettered an investigation, something Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would use his influence to achieve. Though confident that a missile brought down the aircraft, U.S. officials say Russia's role remains unclear.

At the site of the downed plane, Malaysian officials returned to gather more information, but concerns remained that Ukrainian crews cutting into the plane’s wrecked fuselage with power saws could be tampering with evidence, Ormiston said, noting that people have seen carrying parts of the plane away.

In Britain, officials confirmed the two black boxes, were delivered. The flight recorders are set to be analyzed by the Air Accidents Investigations Branch, a lab certified by the International Civil Aviation Organization in southern England.

Two military transport planes, one Dutch and one Australian, departed at midday, heading for Eindhoven air base, to be met by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of relatives.

Dutch government spokesman LodewijkHekking said about 60 coffins were expected, but the number wasn't immediately confirmed.

- PHOTOS | Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site images

The CBC’s Tom Parry, reporting from the Eindhoven air base, said once the bodies arrive, they will be loaded into hearses and moved to a military base about 100 kilometres away where forensics teams will begin identifying them.

Parry said a Canadian representative will be at the ceremony, though it’s unclear if the body of 24-year-old Andrei Anghel, from Ajax, Ont., is on the plane.

Some of the victims’ families, who have been warned it could take months to identify the bodies of their loved ones, will also attend the repatriation ceremony.

Confusion over body count

There was confusion as well about how many of the 282 corpses which the rebels said they have found were on the train which arrived in Kharkiv, a government-controlled city, on Tuesday.

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

Wreckage from the aircraft fell on territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists who have been battling the Kyiv government since April. U.S. officials say the plane was probably shot down by a missile, most likely by accident.

The European Union on Tuesday imposed sanctions against more Russian individuals but refrained from targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy while waiting for clearer evidence of Moscow's role in the disaster.

U.S. finds no direct link to Russia

Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of the plane, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

The plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the intelligence officials said, citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.

But the officials said they did not know who fired the missile or whether any Russian operatives were present at the missile launch. They were not certain that the missile crew was trained in Russia, although they described a stepped-up campaign in recent weeks by Russia to arm and train the rebels, which they say has continued even after the downing of the commercial jetliner.

Despite the fuzziness of some details, however, the intelligence officials said the case that the separatists were responsible for shooting down the plane was solid. Other scenarios — such as that the Ukrainian military shot down the plane — are implausible, they said. No Ukrainian surface-to-air missile system was in range.

From satellites, sensors and other intelligence gathering, officials said, they know where the missile originated — in separatist-held territory — and what its flight path was. But if they possess satellite or other imagery of the missile being fired, they did not release it Tuesday. A graphic they made public depicts their estimation of the missile's flight path with a green line. The jet's flight path was available from air traffic control data.

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