KHARKIV, Ukraine (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Ukraine held a departure ceremony Wednesday for the bodies of many Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 passengers and crew who became victims of fighting raging far below them on the plains of eastern Ukraine.
The ceremony began Wednesday at 11 a.m. local time at the airport in Kharkiv, before the bodies were to be moved onto military transport planes and flown to the Netherlands.
The Dutch government declared a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies in the afternoon. The crash on Thursday killed all 298 people — most of them Dutch citizens — aboard Flight 17.
Dutch government spokesman Lodewijk Hekking said about 60 coffins were expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon on two military transport planes, one Dutch and one Australian.
Hundreds of relatives were expected to travel to Eindhoven air base where Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and Prime Minister Mark Rutte were to wait for the flights. CBS News’ Elizabeth Palmer said 60 hearses were also waiting at Eindhoven to carry the coffins away.
Palmer said there would be other aircraft landing at Eindhoven from Kharkiv on Wednesday, including two Dutch military Hercules cargo planes. Those planes, too, were expected to be carrying remains, luggage and personal effects from the ill-fated flight, in addition to members of the Dutch forensic team.
It was unclear how many of the 282 corpses reported found so far were on the train which arrived in Kharkiv, a government-controlled city, on Tuesday, but as CBS News’ Mark Phillips reported, it was clear that not as many bodies were on the train as hoped.
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 were examined fully.
A European observer told Phillips on Tuesday that they were still seeing “body parts, not whole bodies” amid the wreckage at the crash site, and he was concerned by the “invasive” actions by locals and pro-Russian rebels moving and even cutting apart the pieces of the shattered plane before investigators arrived.
Wreckage from the aircraft fell on territory controlled by the separatists who have been battling the Kiev 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.
Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for “creating the conditions” that led to the crash, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.
The officials, who briefed reporters Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used, said the plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The officials cited intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.
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.
Meanwhile, the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed Wednesday that it had taken possession of the two “black box” flight data recorders from the downed Boeing 777, which were handed over to Malaysian authorities by Ukrainian rebels earlier in the week.
The AAIB told CBS News it would take at least a day for the data to be extracted from each of the black boxes at the agency’s headquarters in Farnborough, England. Once the data was in-hand, the AAIB said it would hand it over to the Dutch Safety Board, which would make the decision on what — if any — information should be released to the public.
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