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Malaysia Airlines: Crash site in Ukraine goes neglected as bodies decompose

Story highlights

  • Bodies, wreckage are scattered over eastern Ukraine countryside
  • Some are starting to decompose in the heat
  • Heavily armed pro-Russia militants control the crash site

Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 lay splayed for miles across silent rural fields in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. Two days after the jet crashed, some bodies remained strapped in seat belts -- wearing inflight headphones.

Conspicuously missing at the crash site near Torez were international forensic workers needed to secure and sort the wreckage, and a recovery crew to identify and remove with dignity the bodies of the 298 people who were on board MH17.

A few things have been moved. Luggage was stacked in piles; mementos, children's toys were handled. Most everything is unguarded, there for the curious -- or for the taking.

But the debris field hasn't changed much overall since it slammed into place from about 30,000 feet in the air. Not like it would change, if investigators had a chance to cordon it off and catalog it.

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A round piece of wreckage the size of a small garage -- part of the cabin perhaps -- stood tilted over personal effects of people heading for vacation. Fields were bestrewn with novels, beach sandals, guide books and colorful carry-on bags.

    And all around them were the bodies of their owners, some dressed in shorts and other vacation wear.

    With leaders around the world calling for a swift, thorough and professional investigation, in eastern Ukraine, a small group of local government workers camping near the wreckage emerge from their tents in the mornings.

    They split up the crash site territory in an orderly manner to look for bodies, said journalist Noah Sneider, who visited the site. The emergency workers mark spots where they find human remains with stakes and tie white rags around them.

    There are so many of them. Bodies lie by the roadside, some in fields, some intertwined with parts of the aircraft. And they are spread out so far.

    "Half of them are so mangled, you couldn't identify them," Sneider said.

    Collecting bodies not their job

    A witness who saw the people falling to Earth on Tuesday said they had appeared from out of the cloud cover -- like horrifying rainfall, after the plane tore apart in the sky.

    Emergency workers tell CNN it's not their job to collect the bodies. And a local pro-Russian rebel leader has said that officials from the Netherlands and Malaysia asked that the bodies not be moved.

    But rescue crews and inspectors from those countries are not on site.

    And to get there, they would have to drive about 90 minutes from the city of Donetsk down pot-hole pocked roads. But these lead through a war zone, past checkpoints set up by varying local militias.

    There is no central command, virtually no rule of law.

    Three separate pro-Russian rebel groups guard the perimeter of the crash site alone, Sneider said.

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    A delegation of 21 monitors from the Organization of Cooperation and Safety in Europe made it in after assurances from rebel leaders, but local militiamen at the site allowed them only a brief view of a small outtake of the crash site.

    "It basically looks like the biggest crime scene in the world right now, guarded by a bunch of guys in uniform with heavy firepower who are quite inhospitable," said OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw.

    They asked militiamen for their commander, their leader, he said. "No one showed up."

    An armed man who appeared to have been drinking was there, Bociurkiw said, but he wasn't helpful. "He kind of rushed all of them away, including the journalists."

    Militiamen would have to trust international and Ukrainian crews enough to let them in, and trust is scarce in the conflict zone, Sneider said. Many militiamen hold conspiracy theories about the crash.

    "They claim that it's a provocation conjured up by the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev."

    They don't trust anything coming out of Kiev, he said.

    The OSCE crew is at the site to get an overview and report back what they see. They usually act as observers in conflict zones and are not equipped or trained to recover bodies and evidence.

    But for now, they, the local workers and a few journalists are the only ones there to care.

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