MH17: Bodies of first victims arrive in the Netherlands

Black boxes arrive in UK as US officials say rebels likely shot down jet ‘by mistake’,

A ceremony at Ukraine's Kharkiv airport was held for victims of downed Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 ahead of the first plane taking 16 bodies back to the Netherlands where the painful identification process will begin. Video: Reuters

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 21:43

The bodies of the first victims from a Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine last week arrived today at a military base in the Netherlands - a nation in shock and sorrow.

Bells peeled and flags flew at half mast in memory of the 298 people killed when flight MH17 came down in an area of eastern

Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists, in the first national day of mourning since wartime Queen Wilhelmina died in 1962.

King Willem-Alexander and prime minister Mark Rutte joined dignitaries on the tarmac as two military aircraft carrying 40 plain wooden coffins landed at Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands.

A military guard of honour stood to attention as a trumpeter played The Last Post, the military funeral call for people killed in war.

After a minute’s silence - observed in stations, factories, offices and streets across this stunned nation - servicemen from all four branches of the Dutch military boarded the Dutch Hercules C-130 and Australian Boeing C-17 to carry the coffins to 40 waiting hearses lined up on the runway.

Relatives of some of the victims were present at the airport but were shielded from the media glare, officials said.

Thousands of people lined the 100 km route, watching from motorway bridges as the cortege travelled from Eindhoven to the military base at Hilversum where the bodies will remain until they can be identified, a task that could take months.

As the cortege passed, drivers spontaneously stopped their cars and watched silently from the side of the motorway.

Some clapped in tribute, others threw flowers on the hearses.

The process will be repeated many times over coming days as the bodies of all the victims are brought home.

Amid US accusations that the rebels shot the civilian plane down in error with a Russian-supplied missile, an

opinion poll showed an overwhelming majority of the Dutch want sanctions imposed on Moscow, even if it hurts their own economy. The Netherlands has disproportionately large trade and financial flows with Moscow due to its position as an oil and commodities trading hub and an offshore base for companies.

Tolling bells

Church bells tolled as the planes carrying the remains arrived from Kharkiv, in eastern

Ukraine, shortly before 4 pm (1400 GMT), and windmills around the low-lying coastal nation had been set in a mourning position - with the topmost sail fixed counter-clockwise from the vertical.

The remains of an unknown number of victims were transported in refrigerated rail carriages from the rebel-held part of Ukraine yesterday.

Mr Rutte has said that while some of the bodies may be identified immediately, it may take weeks or even months to complete the task.

With 193 of the dead from the Netherlands, foreign minister Frans Timmermans said almost every family in the country of 15 million knew someone who had been killed or their relatives.

“Think of all the people who were flying away on holiday, all the young people who had just finished their final school exams,” said Jikkie van der Giessen from Amsterdam.