KIEV, Ukraine A small advance team of forensic experts on Thursday finally reached the site where a Malaysia Airlines flight went down in eastern Ukraine two weeks ago, after four days of false starts cut short by heavy fighting in the area.
The team also recovered DNA samples from 25 victims and personal items belonging to 27 peoples, all of which had been kept in a morgue in the rebel-held city of Donetsk before being handed over to the Dutch-led team.
It took seven hours for the two Australian and two Dutch experts, accompanied by monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to drive 123 miles to what they call the chicken farm area, where the plane's wings and landing gear fell. They were delayed at Ukrainian checkpoints waiting for a cease-fire to take effect and at rebel checkpoints negotiating their advance, said Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the head of the recovery mission.
In the end, they spent barely an hour at the site. But they hope to return today with a larger squad to look for body parts and possessions in more locations around the widely scattered debris field. Eventually, they may use sniffer dogs.
The sunflower-drenched fields, forests and back yards where the wreckage fell may still hold the remains of as many as 80 people among the 298 aboard Flight 17 when it was shot down July 17 by a missile apparently fired from separatist-held territory, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
Although the advance squad was small, its visit marked a breakthrough. For four straight days, they had been turned back by warnings of heavy fighting, as presidents, prime ministers and international organizations had pleaded for Ukrainian and separatist forces to observe a cease-fire around the crash site.