KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia said Tuesday it would “securely” hold the black boxes of crashed flight MH17 before handing them over to an international investigation team, to be led by the Netherlands.
Pro-Russian rebels controlling the eastern Ukraine crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had handed over the black boxes, which record cockpit activity and flight data, to Malaysian officials following intense international pressure.
“The Malaysian team have taken custody of the black boxes, which appear to be in good condition,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement, referring to officials sent to Ukraine in the aftermath of the disaster. “They will be held securely in Malaysian custody while the international investigation team is being formalised,” he said. “At that time, we will pass the black boxes to the international investigation team for further analysis.”
Flight MH17 was carrying 298 people, including 193 from the Netherlands, with all on board killed. The jet is believed to have been downed by a surface-to-air missile. Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed Tuesday that his country would lead the crash investigation, which normally would have fallen to Ukraine even though it does not control the area around the crash site.
The first bodies from the crash site will be flown to the Netherlands on Wednesday, Rutte said, where their identification could take months. Najib’s comments Tuesday come less than a day after he announced a breakthrough deal with separatists from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, following direct negotiations.
The separatists currently stand accused by the US and some other nations of bringing down the aircraft, allegedly with a missile supplied by Russia. Malaysia’s deal with the rebels capped an official response praised at home as swift and clear, in contrast to the government’s widely mocked handling of missing flight MH370 in March.
Earlier Tuesday hundreds of Malaysians protested outside the Russian and Ukrainian embassies to denounce the downing of Flight MH17 and demand the perpetrators be brought to justice. About 300 people, most of them wearing black shirts reading “Justice for MH17", gathered in front of the two embassies to hand over a memorandum calling on Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations to get to the bottom of the disaster.
“We won’t take this sitting down. It’s our national carrier... 44 of our citizens were murdered,” said Zaidel Baharuddin, a member of the ruling United Malays National Organisation, one of the organisers of the protests. “We feel this is our responsibility (to speak out). It could be any one of us flying on the national carrier.”