Families of the 298 victims of the shot-down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are still waiting for answers, as foreign governments and international organizations struggled to gain access to the crash site in eastern Ukraine before the evidence is compromised or lost.
The challenges are the sheer scope of the crash, the location of the debris field -- and a failure to keep the site locked down, as noted by USA Today. Malaysia, Britain, the Netherlands and the U.S. are sending investigators to assist at the scene, where the debris field spans as wide as 10 miles in an area now dominated by pro-Russian separatists currently fighting a war.
It has been over a day since MH17 was shot down, and reports on the ground show that rebels and rescue workers have little experience with crime-scene investigations of this size, as pointed out by the Wall Street Journal. Typically, with so much ground to cover, a grid system would be put into place in an effort to make sure no evidence is overlooked, as the Washington Post reported. Investigators would walk the entire crime scene in a gridlike fashion, documenting and categorizing all pieces of evidence. There would be photographs, video tapes and organized categories. That hasn’t happened for MH17 yet.
The open-air nature of the crash scene makes it vulnerable to passersby. Passengers’ carry-on bags and luggage had been neatly grouped in one section of the scene, and “it was clear that looters had opened and rifled through some of them,” USA Today reported. It also said no initiative has been taken to return personal items to the victims’ families.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 18, 2014
Those in control of the area do not appear keen to allow international organizations to take charge. On Friday, both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, and the United Nations Security Council called for an independent investigation of the site, urging those already in the area to maintain the crime scene intact. Media reports circulated that pro-Russian separatists controlled the site and had denied full access to the OSCE. Its team was in an hourlong standoff with the rebels, who fired warning shots and refused it access to the site, the Guardian said.
“We will keep coming back tomorrow and the next day and the next day,” said Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE representative. “Tomorrow will be a crunch day. There are a lot of experts from the Netherlands and Malaysia gathering in Kiev, as well as relatives. The bodies are starting to bloat and decay. An expert team is clearly needed. There is a lot to be done in a short amount of time.”
The investigators’ job grows more difficult with every hour that they aren’t able to examine evidence. And the anguish of the victims’ families only increases as well, as they think of their loved ones lying unprotected in an open field, far away.
The most recent passenger nationality list, made public by both U.S. President Barack Obama and Malaysia Airlines, says that among the dead are 189 from the Netherlands; 44 from Malaysia; 27 from Australia; 12 from Indonesia; nine from the U.K.; four from Belgium; four from Germany; three from the Philippines; and one each from Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. Two dogs and five birds were also on board, according to the cargo manifest. The nationalities of four passengers remains unconfirmed.
The dark closed in on Friday night in Ukraine, while answers for the living -- and dignified rest for the dead -- were still out of reach for another day.