DRIEBERGEN THE NETHERLANDS (Reuters) - The remains of the victims of last week's downing of a Malaysian airliner will begin to arrive in the Netherlands on Wednesday, but the intricate and harrowing process of giving names to the bodies could take weeks or months, Dutch officials said.
Two military transport aircraft will touch down at 1500 BST at the airport in Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands on Wednesday, which has been declared the country's first day of mourning in more than half a century. The convoy will be the first of many.
At Eindhoven, the first bodies will be unloaded to a solemn trumpet salute as dignitaries including the Dutch King and Queen and representatives of other countries that lost citizens look on, the Dutch governement said.
The Netherlands is taking the lead in identifying the 298 victims of Thursday's crash, 193 of whom were Dutch. Some preparatory work has been done in Kharkiv, where Dutch forensics experts have established an operations centre.
But the real work will only start once the bodies have been transported from Eindhoven to a military base in the town of Hilversum, near Amsterdam. There, forensic examiners will compare the remains with material gathered from family members.
"Since last Saturday, for three days already, we have 80 family detectives on the way to the relatives, who collect all the information about the missing people," said Ed Krasziewski, a spokesman for the national forensic investigation team.
That information includes personal identifying marks, from tattoos to scars. Detectives have sought out dental records, fingerprints and DNA material where it is available, and assembled it all into a so-called ante-mortem file that is available to compare with the remains stored in Hilversum.
"There are many victims," Krasziewski said. "We don't know the state of the victims; we have to look at what they bring us tomorrow, and then we will see."
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the process of identifying the remains could take weeks or months.
Most of the bodies are already in Ukrainian-controlled territory at Kharkiv, where identification teams from agencies including Interpol are carrying out preliminary examinations. But the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said some body parts remain at the crash site in rebel-controlled territory.
(Reporting By Svebor Kranjc and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Larry King)