AMSTERDAM – The Netherlands’ prime minister has halted the search for remains of victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster in Ukraine, saying it is too dangerous to continue.
At a news conference in The Hague Wednesday, Mark Rutte praised the effort of the international recovery mission so far, and promised victims’ families the search will resume in the future when Ukraine is “more stable.”
“We’re stopping now, but we won’t stop,” he said.
Flight 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 people on board. In all, 228 coffins with remains have been returned to the Netherlands, but it is not known how many victims that number represents.
Rutte said that now that the international recovery team has been able to access the site and communicate with local authorities, it has learned the recovery effort undertaken by local authorities immediately after the crash was more thorough than initially thought.
The international team of Dutch, Australian and Malaysian recovery workers was unable to reach the site until July 31 because of fighting in the area between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels. Since then, it has found remains of only a few victims, despite expectations it might find as many as 80.
Rutte said that it now appears “fortunately that more was done after the disaster than we thought until now.”
Local Ukrainian authorities carried out “an intensive search in the area with 800 volunteers, and there were many bodies recovered in those (first) days,” he said.
Those remains are being identified in the Netherlands.
A separate investigation into the cause of the crash is continuing, Rutte said.
Earlier Wednesday, a spokesman for the Dutch Safety Board, which is overseeing that investigation, said preliminary findings due Aug. 17 won’t be ready until several weeks after that date. Wim van der Weegen said in a telephone interview that is in part because of the difficulty investigators have had in reaching the crash site.