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Malaysia Airlines: Crash site in Ukraine goes neglected as bodies decompose

By Phil Black and Ben Brumfield, CNN
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 sits in a field at the crash site in Hrabove, Ukraine, on Tuesday, September 9. The Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down July 17 in an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 sits in a field at the crash site in Hrabove, Ukraine, on Tuesday, September 9. The Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down July 17 in an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
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Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bodies, wreckage are scattered over eastern Ukraine countryside
  • Some are starting to decompose in the heat
  • Heavily armed pro-Russia militants control the crash site

Grabove, Ukraine (CNN) -- Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 lay splayed for miles across silent rural fields in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. Two days after the jet crashed, some bodies remained strapped in seat belts -- wearing inflight headphones.

Conspicuously missing at the crash site near Torez were international forensic workers needed to secure and sort the wreckage, and a recovery crew to identify and remove with dignity the bodies of the 298 people who were on board MH17.

A few things have been moved. Luggage was stacked in piles; mementos, children's toys were handled. Most everything is unguarded, there for the curious -- or for the taking.

But the debris field hasn't changed much overall since it slammed into place from about 30,000 feet in the air. Not like it would change, if investigators had a chance to cordon it off and catalog it.

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Plane parts, books, bodies

A round piece of wreckage the size of a small garage -- part of the cabin perhaps -- stood tilted over personal effects of people heading for vacation. Fields were bestrewn with novels, beach sandals, guide books and colorful carry-on bags.

And all around them were the bodies of their owners, some dressed in shorts and other vacation wear.

With leaders around the world calling for a swift, thorough and professional investigation, in eastern Ukraine, a small group of local government workers camping near the wreckage emerge from their tents in the mornings.

They split up the crash site territory in an orderly manner to look for bodies, said journalist Noah Sneider, who visited the site. The emergency workers mark spots where they find human remains with stakes and tie white rags around them.

There are so many of them. Bodies lie by the roadside, some in fields, some intertwined with parts of the aircraft. And they are spread out so far.

"Half of them are so mangled, you couldn't identify them," Sneider said.

Collecting bodies not their job

A witness who saw the people falling to Earth on Tuesday said they had appeared from out of the cloud cover -- like horrifying rainfall, after the plane tore apart in the sky.

Emergency workers tell CNN it's not their job to collect the bodies. And a local pro-Russian rebel leader has said that officials from the Netherlands and Malaysia asked that the bodies not be moved.

But rescue crews and inspectors from those countries are not on site.

And to get there, they would have to drive about 90 minutes from the city of Donetsk down pot-hole pocked roads. But these lead through a war zone, past checkpoints set up by varying local militias.

There is no central command, virtually no rule of law.

Scattered evidence of MH17 catastrophe
The passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 came from around the world and held a wide range of hopes and dreams. While the identities of the 298 people aboard have not been release by the airline, CNN has been able to confirm some of them via family, friends and social media. The passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 came from around the world and held a wide range of hopes and dreams. While the identities of the 298 people aboard have not been release by the airline, CNN has been able to confirm some of them via family, friends and social media.
Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
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Photos: Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered Photos: Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered

Three separate pro-Russian rebel groups guard the perimeter of the crash site alone, Sneider said.

A birthday card found in a sunflower field near the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, July 24. The passenger plane was shot down July 17 above Ukraine. All 298 people aboard were killed, and much of what they left behind was scattered in a vast field of debris. A birthday card found in a sunflower field near the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, July 24. The passenger plane was shot down July 17 above Ukraine. All 298 people aboard were killed, and much of what they left behind was scattered in a vast field of debris.
MH17: What they left behind
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MH17: What they left behind MH17: What they left behind
Confusion, hostility at MH17 crash site
Report: MH17 victims' credit cards stolen

A small international delegation

A delegation of 21 monitors from the Organization of Cooperation and Safety in Europe made it in after assurances from rebel leaders, but local militiamen at the site allowed them only a brief view of a small outtake of the crash site.

"It basically looks like the biggest crime scene in the world right now, guarded by a bunch of guys in uniform with heavy firepower who are quite inhospitable," said OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw.

They asked militiamen for their commander, their leader, he said. "No one showed up."

An armed man who appeared to have been drinking was there, Bociurkiw said, but he wasn't helpful. "He kind of rushed all of them away, including the journalists."

Militiamen would have to trust international and Ukrainian crews enough to let them in, and trust is scarce in the conflict zone, Sneider said. Many militiamen hold conspiracy theories about the crash.

"They claim that it's a provocation conjured up by the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev."

They don't trust anything coming out of Kiev, he said.

The OSCE crew is at the site to get an overview and report back what they see. They usually act as observers in conflict zones and are not equipped or trained to recover bodies and evidence.

But for now, they, the local workers and a few journalists are the only ones there to care.

Body bags at scene of Malaysia Airlines crash; Ukraine accuses rebels of looting

Malaysia Airlines: Cargo manifest shows 2 dogs among casualties of jet crash

Is this any way to secure a plane crash scene?

CNN's Ralph Ellis, Jason Hanna and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

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