Saturday, 19 July 2014

Claims of looting at MH17 crash site

The reports come alongside those of a chaotic investigation being conducted among the wheat fields at the crash site.

Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission for Ukraine, told ABC News Radio that bodies at the crash site were already “starting to decompose in the fields”.

'It is astonishing to go there and this scene with no recovery going on,' Mr Bociukiw said.

He said there there appeared to be no tampering with bodies at the site except markers were being placed near to them or to body parts. He said debris seemed to still be in place. He said the crash site could be up to six kilometres wide.

''It is a very, very gruesome scene and it boggles the mind that this could go on, we are going into day two or three now,'' Mr Bociukiw said.

He said it was disturbing to find no credible leader in the separatist-held area to establish the facts at the site.

Questions remained about how many bodies were there and the location of the black box. Mr Bociukiw's delegation needed to find out whether it was safe enough for international experts to begin their investigation into the disaster.

He said many of the separatists appeared ''very aggressive'', under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs.

''It is kind of the world's biggest crime scene right now,'' Mr Bociurkiw said.

He said his team had been in touch with Malaysian senior officials whose prime concern was that the bodies were treated in a human way.

''One immediate requirement would be refrigerated trailers - anything where these bodies could be moved - so they don't continue to lie there, exposed to the elements,'' Mr Bociurkiw said.

He said, 25 workers from the OSCE had access to the crash site for just 75 minutes before they were forced to leave. He said a gun shot was fired into the air as they left.

OSCE council chairman, Thomas Greminger told Reuters that workers assessing the scene "did not have the kind of access that they expected. They did not have the freedom of movement that they need to do their job. The crash site is not sealed off".

International investigators retrieving luggage as evidence reportedly found that many of the possessions had already been opened and rifled through.

"The looting and pillaging could ultimately interfere with the official investigation into the MH17 disaster," USA Today reported.

"The recovery effort lacks organisation as possessions found in the debris have not been categorised or recorded," the paper claimed.

"Unlike standard crime scene procedures, the system at the crash site is lacking in order and organisation."

"This has encouraged mobs of looter and pillagers to swarm around the crash site looking for valuables."

Freelance photojournalist Filip Warwick told Fairfax there is strong evidence to suggest looting had taken place before any security presence at the site.

"I noticed that I hadn't come across a single wallet with money, or a mobile phone or a camera. They've all mysteriously gone missing."

Because investigators and officials arrived after many of the items were already stolen, it is impossible to tell exactly how many items are missing, what they went, or what value they may have had to the investigation. The investigators discovered the looting when they began to look at the luggage, only to find it had already been pulled out and sifted through. Bruce Rodger, an aviation expert who spoke with The Wire, warned that this inference will greatly hinder efforts to understand what happened.

The entire investigation lacks organization at this point. The crash site is huge, about ten miles across, and this is adding to the chaos. Because of the size of the site and the looting, it is hard to categorize debris and evidence. Much of the debris has not be categorized by type or location, as is usual in a crime scene of this sort. CNN also reports that some of the bodies were moved to another location for storage, but again, not before the scene was properly secured.

Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels have since agreed to set up a security zone around the crash site of the Malaysian jet that was apparently shot down in the separatist east, Ukraine's security service chief said on Saturday.

Internationally mediated talks "concluded with an agreement to set up a 20-kilometre security zone so that Ukraine could fulfil the most important thing -- identify the bodies (and) hand them over to relatives," Ukrainian Security Service head Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said in televised remarks.

Gunmen prevented monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe from observing the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed in rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday, the rights and security watchdog said.

Calling their behavior "impolite and unprofessional", an OSCE spokesman said some gunmen in the area seemed intoxicated while others would not let the team of about 25 observers look at the wreckage of the Boeing 777.

"We had expected unfettered access, that's the way we work," Michael Bociurkiw told a news conference.

"Unfortunately the task was made very difficult. Upon arrival at the site ... we encountered armed personnel who acted in a very impolite and unprofessional manner. Some of them even looked slightly intoxicated."

Denjen Doroschenko, an Australian journalist working in Ukraine told Fairfax Media in a radio interview that separatist organisations on the ground were "clueless about how to control a disaster area at all".

He told The New Daily there were corpses strewn across the crash site but there was no coordinated effort by local officials to protect them or any other evidence.

“Since we arrived here last night I’ve seen 65 bodies. There are officials wandering around marking out bodies, but they are also taking pictures of themselves in front of pieces of aircraft,” Mr Doroschenko told The New Daily.

The nearby roads had been blocked off by separatists. There were no local people around the scene, and the militants were not bothered by the presence of groups of international journalists.

“They are ignoring us, but they are also ignoring the poor people who are lying on the ground waiting for attention,” Mr Doroschenko said.

“Soon, we’ll be returning to Donetsk. We’ve walked the entire debris field and filmed just about everything. We need to get this footage out to the world so they can see what’s going on here.”

While the bodies lay in a Ukrainian field unattended, groups of men Mr Doroschenko described as “separatists” were looting the wallets and bags which belonged to the passengers of flight MH17.

“One of them is looking for passports or other identification. The wallets are all empty now – they’ve stolen all the money out of them. They have been going through the baggage. I have walked past bags lying on the ground, then walk back past it only a few minutes later to see that cameras or money have been taken out of them.

“It’s a horrible situation to see. There’s not a single wallet I have seen with any money left in it.”

He said there were no police, no government officials and no airline investigators on the scene. He said the separatists were a disparate group of men from “Russia, mostly Russia, Chechnya, Dagestan … all over the place”.

However, new images taken after sunrise show a growing number of rescuers on the site with materials used to mark out the location of the dead.

Dr Geoff Dell, an air crash investigation expert from Central Queensland University, said in any crash investigation it is critical that all on site know what they are doing.

"The longer it stays unexamined the more likely it gets contaminated, especially when there is people that aren’t really familiar with accident scenes, stomping all over it," he said.

"The longer that goes on the more likely something you’re looking for is either destroyed, or stolen."

He referred to Lauda Air Flight 004 which crashed in Thailand in 1991, in which a critical component was never found due to looting.

"Overnight a large percentage of the wreckage was pilfered. Pieces of the airplane that you couldn’t for the life of you think someone would want to steal, were taken," he said.

Dr Dell said it was crucial that proper protocols were followed, such as protecting the perimeter to keep people out and setting up a grid.

"You draw up a grid so you can set up the relationship with the wreckage and identify exactly where each critical piece of evidence came from," he said.

Armed guards are reportedly guarding the crash site near Torez, in a remote eastern area of Ukraine, where it is said the typical investigation grid is absent.

Dr Dell said bodies that are still at the scene pose a different risk, as the risk of infection and disease to investigators on the crash scene increases.

"It's inevitable some contamination will take place during the rescue of removal of the bodies," he said.

"In other parts of the world there is less awareness of that, and I wouldn't be surprised given what we’ve seen, if the crash site hasn't already been substantially altered by the actions of the people in the first response."

Saturday 19 July 2014


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