Work has begun to remove the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
Four months after the airliner was shot down claiming 298 lives, witnesses said workers from the emergency ministry of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic began cutting pieces of the plane’s wreckage with metal saws at the crash site near the village of Grabove.
Investigators from The Netherlands heading the probe into the MH17 downing, in which 193 Dutch citizens and 38 Australians died, confirmed they were overseeing the removal of the debris and said it could take “several days”.
“Today the recovery of wreckage from flight MH17 has started. The Dutch Safety Board commissioned the recovery and transportation to The Netherlands of the wreckage as part of the investigation into the cause of the crash of flight MH17,” the Dutch experts said in a statement.
The investigation team said the wreckage would be collected close to the crash site before being transported to the government-controlled city of Kharkiv and then flown to The Netherlands.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supplying pro-Moscow rebels with the missile that shot down the Boeing 777 as it flew from Amsterdam en route to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, in an incident that increased pressure on Moscow over its role in the conflict in Ukraine.
Moscow and the Kremlin-backed insurgents have strenuously denied they were behind the downing of the plane, pointing the finger of blame instead at Kiev.
Speaking on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Russian president Vladmir Putin said there was”a good chance” of resolution in the Ukraine conflict.
The probe team has so far managed to collect and identify the remains of 289 of the victims from the tragedy but recovery operations have been disrupted by fierce fighting in the area between government forces and insurgents.
An interim report published in September, which was based on data from the aircraft’s black box recorders, photographic and radar evidence and satellite imagery, said the Boeing 777 was brought down by “high energy objects” in its vicinity – consistent with attack from the air or the ground.