Painful visit to MH17 remains

Details that matter: Trial judges and lawyers viewing the reconstructed wreckage of MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen military Airbase, southern Netherlands. — AFP

The Hague: Dutch judges visited the shrapnel-pierced wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 for the first time in an “emotionally loaded” day for the trial of four suspects in the crash.

Torn shreds of the front of the plane, which was shot down in 2014 over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, have been reconstructed on a wire cage at Gilze-Rijen air base in the Netherlands.

The trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian over the downing of the Boeing 777 began in March 2020 but has moved slowly due to legal arguments. The suspects are being tried in absentia.

“We realise that this visit to the reconstruction of MH17 as part of the official criminal process will be very emotionally loaded for relatives, ” presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis said.

“This is a reconstruction of an aircraft in which their loved ones were underway to a destination that they never reached because the aircraft crashed during the flight and all on board perished.”

The judges inspected the outside of the painstakingly reassembled wreckage, still coated in Malaysia Airlines’ white, red and blue paint, and then climbed up a ladder to look inside at the damage.

“The bench have not had a previous opportunity to view the reconstruction, ” judge Steenhuis said.

Lawyers for the prosecution and defence, who have previously been allowed to see the debris, were then allowed to do the same.

The jet was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels. All passengers and crew on board were killed.

An international investigation concluded that a BUK missile that had originally come from the Russian army’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in the city of Kursk was responsible.

The wreckage was put together after being transported back from war-scarred eastern Ukraine by rail and plane to the air force base in the Netherlands.

A Dutch-led air safety investigation concluded the plane was torn apart by some 800 “high energy objects” from the missile. The probe concluded some of the people on board may have known for up to 90 seconds after the missile hit.

The trial opened in March 2020 but has been delayed by legal arguments, with the body of evidence only due to start being heard in June.

It is being held in the Netherlands because it was the point of departure for the doomed plane, and because 196 of the victims were Dutch.

The four suspects – Russian nationals Pulatov, Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko – are all being tried in absentia. — AFP

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