This blogpost will provide some insight into the process of recovery of the MH17 victims and the identification of the bodies.,
Initially local people like miners started searching for bodies. All locations were bodies were found were marked with a pole and some white fabric.
Soon after the crash happened the local emergency authority Ukrainian State Emergency Services (SES) started recovery of the bodies. Bodies were taken out of the field and put near roads. Bodies were covered in toxic formaldehyde to delay the decomposition body of the body in the summer heat. Then bodies were put in body bags and put in trucks. (source)
37 bodies were found near the location where the cockpit and part of the business class was found (village of Rozsypne). These bodies were transported to the Kalininskiy mortuary of Donetsk. This happened at July 17 and 18. Likely the bodies of the cockpit crew and purser who were in the cockpit were part of those 37.
At July 18 the identification of the 37 bodies brought to the Kalininskiy mortuary started. A section of rib was removed from 11 bodies as part of the identification process. This is a common local working procedure. The Dutch decided to stop the id process and perform identification in the Netherlands.
At July 19 the bodies in the Kalininskiy mortuary were transported to the Torez railwaystation. (source)
Bodies were loaded on trucks and brought to a train at Torez railway station. The train had 3 wagons with cooling. The remains of victims were labelled and numbered
From July 17 till July 21 , 282 bodies were recovered and 87 body parts. Besides the local emergency team of SES, also Dutch and Australian teams searched for bodies.
At July 21 around 18:00 the train with bodies leaves Torez with destination Kharkiv. Malaysian police officers and Dutch people are on board the train. Kharkiv was controlled by Ukraine.
Ukraine government spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Kharkiv was ready to receive the bodies. “We have everything in Kharkiv, experts from international organisations and from Ukraine,” he said. “They have all the facilities ready for all the forensic investigation and examination. “If the train is dispatched and arrives we are prepared to receive it.” (source)
At July 22 at around 10:30 the train arrives in Kharkiv. The Dutch stated only 200 bodies arrived in Kharkiv. A claim which turned out to be incorrect.
The train arrived in a Malyshev tank factory ! The factory is owned by Ukraine’s state arms industry, UkrOboronProm. The preliminary disaster victim identification (DVI) work on the remains is started here by INTERPOL’s Incident Response Team (IRT) . The 10-strong IRT is currently comprised of three Dutch DVI specialists, one of whom is the IRT leader, four INTERPOL officials, a Brazilian forensics expert and current chair of the INTERPOL DVI Steering Group and representatives from Europol and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). (source)
In Kharkiv all bodies arrived packed in body bags. All bodies were scanned in an X-ray machine to make sure there were no bombs in the body bag. The body bags in which the victims’ remains had been packed by the local SES were not opened before they were airlifted to the Netherlands. (source). However this reads different.
“There was a lot of human remains. The size of the bags and the amount of remains in each varied. Obviously we were dealing with a lot of partial bodies and I expected that, but the body fragmentation was less that I thought you’d get with an aircraft breaking up at 10,000 metres.”(source)
The bodies including the body bag was packed in a coffin. A coffin may contain one or several body bags. Investigation will have to determine whether a body bag contain a single body or body parts.
A x-ray of one of the crewmembers who was in the cockpit at the time of the explosion was published by Ukraine censor.net. The x-ray was highly likely made in Kharkiv.
At July 23 two aircraft with 40 bodies in total leave Kharkiv airport with destination Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The next day more bodies are flown to Eindhoven.
The bodies are loaded from the aircraft into hearses. The hearses the immediately drive to Hilversum where the identification and autopsy process is done.
The National Forensic Investigation Team, or LTFO, started the identification process on Wednesday evening (23/7), immediately after the arrival of the first bodies. On Saturday July 26, the first victim has been identified. Forensic specialists from Australia, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia were also cooperating in Hilversum, the Netherlands. They totalled 200: 80 from abroad and 120 from the Netherlands. (source)
In total 5000 human remains were brought in. The first four week about 300 people were working 24/7 on autopsy and identification.
After the bodies arrived by hearses in Hilversum they were stored in cooled sea containers. Each coffin was carried by 6 persons under full respect from the hearse to the container.
Later each body was taken out of the cooled container and brought to the location where forenstic and DVI investigation was done.
Each coffin was tested by Dutch military staff for chemical and biological hazards, and then put through a CT scanner – those showing “foreign” objects were diverted to a “limited forensic autopsy for prosecution purposes”, otherwise they proceeded to the DVI examination area. I
Because of the toxic formaldehyde used by SES in Ukraine all staff was wearing oxygen masks.
There were two main objectives for the team working in Hilversum. The autopsy and forensic investigation to find out the cause of death and the identification process.
The forensic autopsy was done by Dutch staff of the NFI. (Nederlands Forensisch Instituut).
A different process in a different building was the identification of the bodies. This was done by the LTFO (Landelijk Team Forensische Opsporing)
Both procesess were fully closed for people not taking part in the process. Even the Malaysian Prime Minister was not allowed to enter the buildings.
The Australian DVI team was involved purely in identifying victims and that any forensic examination of the victims on behalf of the criminal or safety investigations was done independently, a reference apparently to a separate, area of the Hilversum mortuary which was mostly Dutch-staffed, according to Ranson, the Victorian forensic pathologist. (source)
In October 2014, three months after the crash, chief Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke revealed that 500 metal particles had been recovered from victims’ bodies and from the wreckage – among them were 25, described as iron, which were of particular interest, presumably because they might help in identifying the missile system or any other weapon used in the attack on MH17 (source)
The DSB final report concluded that there were no pre-formed fragments found in bodies of people in the cabine.
Cockpit crew identification
On board of MH17 were two cockpit crews: team A was in the cockpit at the time of the explosion and was flying the aircraft. A third person in the cockpit was a purser. The captain flying was aged 44 years, assisted by a first officer, aged 26 years.
Cockpit team B was a relief crew consisting of a captain (Wan Amran 49 years) and first officer ( aged 29) . Where they were located at the time of the explosion is unknown. Likely they were in the crew rest area directly behind the cockpit. Other places could be the business class or one of the 2 jump seats in the cockpit.
The bodies that were hit by shrapnel were those of the members of team A. On the internet a few pictures the two members of team A have circulated. I will not publish these here, out of respect for the bereaved. The captain body has lost body parts. The body of the first officer seems to be intact. However photos shows severe wounds at a leg and holes in the stomache of the first officer.
The DSB report says there were “hundreds of metal fragments” in the captain’s body; “over 120 objects (mostly metal fragments)” in the first Officer’s body; and “more than 100 objects” in the purser’s body.