Despite fierce fighting in region, mission to gather MH17 bodies resumes

Dutch and Australian experts have gathered more remains from the crash site of Flight MH17 in east Ukraine, as they scramble to make up for lost time amid clashes between government troops and pro-Russian rebels.

Seventy police investigators — by far the largest number to reach the location so far — finally managed to comb the scattered wreckage in the fields where the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed two weeks ago, killing all 298 people on board.

"So far the mission leaders' assessment is to continue to work unarmed," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said yesterday, two weeks after the crash in which 298 people died.

They included 193 from Holland, 38 from Australia — Kiwi Mary Menke among them — and Briton Rob Ayley of Wellington, who had lived in NZ since he was 2.


More than 220 coffins have been sent back to the Netherlands, but efforts to recover more remains left at the site have been hampered by clashes between the Ukrainian troops and separatist fighters.

Despite the international team managing to begin work at the site, the fighting that had impeded their probe continued to rage across eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military said an overnight ambush by insurgents in Shakhtarsk, a town 25km from the main impact site, left 14 people dead, including at least 10 soldiers.

Thirteen more soldiers were injured and another 11 were missing as fighting wore on.

The clash broke a brief lull during a one-day ceasefire.

Both rebels and Kiev have vowed to keep open an access corridor to the crash site, while Ukraine's army has pledged not to fight in the immediate vicinity.

Fighting also flared in Donetsk, with local authorities saying one civilian died after a minibus taxi was hit by mortar shrapnel.

The continuing violence highlights the huge task facing the international probe into the downing of the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight, as more experts from Malaysia were due to arrive.

Experts are looking to move in heavier equipment and sniffer dogs to help scour the vast site and will set up a new base in Soledar, northwest of the disaster zone, to help handle the remains.

Back in the Netherlands, the painstaking task of processing the bodies has carried on, with only the second body to be identified so far revealed as a Dutch national.