Inspectors Struggle To Collect Evidence At MH17 Crash Site

At the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, inspector Michael Bociurkiw says rebels have allowed some access, but the inspectors are hampered by a lack of equipment.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Outrage continues to grow this weekend over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine on Thursday. Much of the evidence seems to point toward pro-Russian separatists firing a Russian-made missile. President Obama yesterday called the deaths and outrage of unspeakable proportions. And calls are mounting for the pro-Russian paramilitary groups that control the crash site to allow foreign inspectors secure access to be able to collect evidence and begin an investigation. We're joined now by Michael Bociurkiw. He's with the team of OSCE investigators who are there on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. Mr. Bociurkiw, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW: My pleasure.

SIMON: And I gather you're in a car coming back from the crash site?

BOCIURKIW: Yes, we are. We're in a convoy right now, going to relay with rebel-held territory in Donetsk Oblast. And this was our second time to access the crash site. I must say it was quite a bit better than yesterday when we faced really an intimidating unprofessional treatment by the rebels who were controlling that area. Now, today, what was different was they started to collect the bodies and place them in body bags. But it's just an absolutely astonishingly big job procedure - you're talking up to 300 people scattered over an area of up to 10 kilometers. Very little equipment to work with, there' no refrigeration. There's experts working the field, but no one really knows who they are and we even spotted a group of minors who were apparently drafted into the operation to help collect the bodies. And then still no word about the black boxes.

SIMON: I mean, you describe an area - it sounds like almost anyone can walk in - and if I might put it this way - help themselves to whatever they want.

BOCIURKIW: And that's absolutely true. Pretty much anyone can walk in because don't forget this area covers quite a few villages. I mean, there were even reports of bodies falling onto rooftops or through roofs and into people's homes. Very gruesome scene - we spotted some body bags that were open and yesterday the bodies we observed were already in the first stages of decompositions because of the heat and of course because of the trauma from the fall.

SIMON: Mr. Bociurkiw, I don't mean to put you in a difficult position, but is it - I feel I've got to ask this - is it already too late to do an investigation to the international standard that would be accepted?

BOCIURKIW: Well, I don't think it's too late, but with every passing day, just (inaudible) much more difficult. Yesterday I believe it was, the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. permanent representative mentioned our special monitoring mission, but I must say, the folks who hold sway over this piece of land don't make our job very easy. We know that there are international experts from Malaysia and the Netherlands and the U.S. are already here in the Ukraine, and what we're trying to do is facilitate that dialogue that would allow them to come as soon as possible.

SIMON: Do you feel, if I may, a sense of any hazard being there, given some of the hostility?

BOCIURKIW: Yeah, there is a hazard. I mean, there's a lot of firepower there. The men that are heavily armed, a lot of them are masked, they're very jittery. We know this today that - well, two this is, number one, they wouldn't allow our vehicles to pass through the crash area. And as I said, it's a very big area, so we had to pursue on foot. And the security always seemed to be put in place while we were there. So - but this whole area is very, very tricky. Security is fluid. Even in the hotel, the four-star hotel, the Radisson that we're staying in Donetsk. So it's not a very easy environment to work in, but as a monitoring mission, we do assume some risk and we'll try to do what we can.

SIMON: Michael Bociurkiw, who's here with the OSCE team on the ground in Ukraine at the crash site. Thanks so much for being with us.

BOCIURKIW: My pleasure, sir.

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