Ukrainian rescuer passes by debris of the Boeing 777, Malaysia Arilines flight MH17, which crashed during flying over the eastern Ukraine region near Donetsk, Ukraine, 18 July 2014. EPA
PETALING JAYA: It was a sight that even hardened journalists could not bear to watch. The scene at the site where Malaysia Airlines’ Flight MH17 had been shot down at the Russia-Ukraine border was just too gruesome.
“This is an absolute disaster. Impossible to comprehend.” tweeted Noah Sneider, a freelance journalist at the scene.
Via his Twitter handle @NoahSneider, he described the morning as a scene where roosters were crowing and the orange sun glowing but with “the ground littered with human skeletons and plane fragments”.
The locals, he said, described the incident as “everything exploded in the air and fell in pieces – both bodies and plane itself”, adding that the villagers thought they were being bombed.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” one local rebel fighter tells me. “You look down and see ears, fingers, bones,” he tweeted.
At the crash site, he said, bodies were everywhere.
Harriet Salem, another freelance journalist, said the scene was even more horrific in daylight and firefighters were fanning across fields to mark spots where body parts were found with poles and white ribbons.
“Firefighters work into night at #MH17 crash site as armed rebels patrol area. Locals say they’re terrified,” she tweeted via @HarrietSalem
There were others. Sabrina Tevernese wrote in the New York Times of how bodies that looked intact were strewn about in the smoldering wreckage although the plane had fallen from 30,000 feet.
“A woman in a black sweater lay on her back, blood streaming from her face, her left arm raised as if signalling someone. Another victim, naked except for a black bra, lay on the field, her grey hair mixing with the green grass, one leg broken and her body torn,” she wrote.
Residents spoke of bodies falling from the sky, looking like rags or clumps of ash, before the plane came to a jolting rest in a large wheat field dotted with purple flowers and Queen Anne’s lace.
“It was horrible,” a separatist rebel told her. Even the rebels were in shock.
Sabrina told of how rescue workers tied small white strips of cloth to tree branches along the debris path to mark the locations of the bodies under the bitter air.
“A strange detail marked what looked like part of a wing, a hole suggesting a burst of metal pushed outward. To an untrained eye, it was unclear whether the damage had been done by ordnance or some other, unknown forces on the way down,” Sabrina wrote.
Many of the victims were still wearing their seatbelts, attached to pieces of the plane. One man, still in his socks but without pants, lay in the field, his right arm placed on his abdomen as if in repose. Others had personal belongings nearby. A young man in blue shorts, wearing red Nike sneakers but no pants, lay with his arms and legs splayed outward, an iPhone by his side.
The fiery crash left debris strewn across several square miles in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.
“Mundane items of daily life covered the grass. Toiletries spilled out of overnight bags. Nivea cream. A razor. White slippers. A glass bottle of cologne. A maxi pad lay in the grass. A soft blue fuzzy blanket spilling from a red suitcase was caught on a sharp metal pole. A bicycle lay in the grass, practically intact.”
The closest village was Grabovo, a small coal-mining town.
Oleg Georgievich, 40, a miner who is also fighting with the insurgency here, told the NYT that he thought the town was being bombed. “Aircraft have been flying over daily,” he said.
He heard a sound like a whistle, then saw something falling from the sky. He later understood it was part of the plane’s fuselage. Then he saw things that looked like pieces of cloth coming fast towards the ground. They were bodies, many with their clothes torn off.