Forensic experts gather material to identify victims of Flight 17
By Mike Corder
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Forensic teams fanned out across the Netherlands on Saturday to collect material including DNA samples that will help positively identify the remains of victims killed in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine.
Police said in a tweet that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team would be visiting victims' relatives over the coming days.
Their aims is to build a database of material including DNA and photographs of distinguishing features like scars and tattoos that can be used to identify bodies and body parts recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines said 193 of the 298 passengers and crew killed in Thursday's aviation disaster were Dutch.
The airline released the full list of passengers and crew on Saturday and appealed to family and friends of the victims to contact the carrier so it can get a full picture of the next of kin.
"In the past 45 hours, the airline together with various foreign embassies have made every effort to establish contact with the next-of-kin but is still unable to identify many more family members," Malaysia Airlines said in a statement.
Across the Netherlands, at sports clubs, schools and churches, friends met Saturday to console each another and attempt to come to terms with their loss.
The European Union police coordination body Europol said Saturday it would assist Interpol and other agencies in identifying victims in Ukraine.
"We will do our utmost to support the work that must be done following this horrific incident, where hundreds of families and friends to the innocent victims on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 are grieving and left with unanswered questions," Europol Director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines said it is assessing security in Ukraine before taking a decision about possibly flying next of kin to the country where their family members lost their lives.
A spokesman for the airline said family members were being cared for in Amsterdam while a team from the carrier, including security officials, is in Ukraine assessing the situation.
The spokesman, who declined to be named in line with company policy, said the team was trying to travel "500 kilometers (310 miles) through difficult territory" to reach the area where wreckage of the Boeing 777 landed.
Dutch newspapers carried pages of photos and stories Saturday about the dead. Travelers flying out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.
"I am not really afraid. It's good that they kept the same flight number," Mirelle Geervliet said as she prepared to board the aircraft. "It doesn't change anything. If you change the number, people will start to be afraid."
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, on a visit to the Netherlands, was among those who signed the condolence book at the airport.
"This is a real tragedy - a tragedy for families, for nations and for the HIV AIDS community," Annan said, referring to a researcher and at least five other people who were traveling to an AIDS conference in Australia. "We should all hope that a thorough international investigation will be conducted and we will know what happened and the culprits should be held to account."
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans was in Kiev on Saturday, pushing for a fully independent, international probe into the downing of the plane, a day after Prime Minister Mark Rutte steered clear of apportioning blame but vowed not to rest until the perpetrators are brought to justice if it is proven to be an attack.