Australian PM visits Hilversum as nearly a quarter of MH17 flight victims identified

Next of kin to receive ‘goodwill payment’ in advance of final compensation

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott (third from right) speaks to Australian forensic researchers during a visit yesterday to the Korporaal Van Oudheusden barracks in Hilversum, in the Netherlands, the location where the victims of flight MH17 are being identified. Photograph: EPA/Robin van Lonkhuijsen

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott (third from right) speaks to Australian forensic researchers during a visit yesterday to the Korporaal Van Oudheusden barracks in Hilversum, in the Netherlands, the location where the victims of flight MH17 are being identified. Photograph: EPA/Robin van Lonkhuijsen

 

A total of 65 of the 298 passengers and crew killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine last month have so far been identified, the Dutch government revealed yesterday, as the search of the crash site remains at a standstill due to heavy fighting.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte had talks with his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, who arrived in the Netherlands to sign the book of condolences for the Dutch victims, to thank the government for its work retrieving the bodies – and to discuss future access to the abandoned site.

“The risks were getting greater and the rewards were getting fewer, and that’s why we decided to suspend the operation,” Mr Abbott told reporters after laying a wreath at the Hilversum military base where the work of identifying the dead is being done by forensic teams.

“At a later time, if the fighting in the area subsides and if we think there are more remains to be recovered, we will, of course, go back and resume the search. But I believe we have found everything that is readily findable at the moment.”

DNA material

The process, which is going on around the clock, was initially slow because it involved minutely examining each piece of material retrieved. However, Mr de Bruijn said it had gathered pace in the past week as the results of pathology tests became available and matches began to be made.

Some of the personal belongings of the dead have also arrived back in the Netherlands, after being gathered at the crash site by Dutch and Australian investigators and by local people, or found on board the refrigerated train used to transfer the bodies to the “air bridge” at Kharkiv.

The items included jewellery, passports, photo albums, mobile phones, cameras, suitcases and clothes, the typical possessions of a plane full of passengers, many of whom were setting off on their summer holidays.

The possessions will be handed over to police for further investigation.

Coinciding with Mr Abbott’s 24-hour visit, parliament in The Hague was briefed by the national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism and security, Dick Schoof, who said 200 detectives and seven prosecutors had been assigned specifically to the criminal investigation of the disaster.

Mr Schoof said the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the international investigation, was expected to have a preliminary report available later this month or early in September – a timescale confirmed later by the board’s spokesman, Wim van der Weegan.

At the same time, a lawyer representing Malaysia Airlines said that the next of kin of the dead are to receive $50,000 (about €37,000) each as “a goodwill payment” in advance of eventual compensation, which could take some time to calculate and agree.