Four days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed on the territory of eastern Ukraine, the pro-Russian rebels have finally agreed to give out the data recorders from downed Boeing 777 to the Malaysian delegation.
Rebel leader Alexander Borodai produced the black boxes, handing them to the Malaysians in a bizarre late-night press conference in Donetsk, while the remains of many of the 298 victims were being moved by train out from the countries conflict zone. From there, they will be flown to Amsterdam on a Dutch C130 Hercules military plane and handed over to Dutch authorities.
“Here they are, the black boxes,” separatist leader Aleksander Borodai told journalists at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk. “We believe these are the black boxes and these boxes will reveal the truth.”
Representatives for the Malaysian delegation signed a document to formalize the handover. However, it is not yet clear what exactly the Malaysian team would do with the black boxes, but there was much speculation the team would pass the boxes on to experts with experience of reading the data.
“You can’t go and fool around with the data. These are solid, secure devices,” said Peter Goelz, former National Transportation Safety Board managing director. “If there was any kind of attempt to alter them, investigators would know immediately.”
A small group of Malaysian air crash experts became the first international accident investigators to reach the site on Tuesday, escorted by a convoy of international monitors and heavily armed separatist fighters, says Reuters.
Colonel Mohamed Sakri, part of the Malaysian delegation, thanked “his excellency Mr. Borodai” for agreeing to the transfer, which came after Borodai spoke personally to the Malaysian prime minister by telephone earlier in the day.
“We show to the people of Malaysia that we are so serious to make sure that these things are recovered for Malaysia,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Prosecutors in the Netherlands have opened a war crimes investigation into the incident, which Western powers have largely blamed on Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine.
Before the boxes were returned, Borodai took the chance to remind the journalists once again that the pro-Russia rebels in east Ukraine had nothing to do with the downing of MH17 and blamed the Kiev government, which he said had “both the technical ability and the motive” to bring down the plane.
On Monday, the Russian defense ministry also rejected accusations that Moscow had supplied the rebels with SA-11 Buk anti-aircraft missile systems – the weapon said by Kiev and the West to have downed the airliner – “or any other weapons”.
Meanwhile, on Monday evening a train of refrigerated carriages finally rolled out of the station in the rebel-controlled city of Torez carrying bodies collected from the crash site in recent days. Borodai said the train contained the bodies of 282 of the victims as well as 87 “other body fragments”.
Dutch forensics experts who inspected the train Monday were “more or less” satisfied with how the bodies were being stored,” said Michael Bociurkiw, the spokesman for monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.