Eindhoven (Netherlands): The first bodies from flight MH17 arrived in the Netherlands today almost a week after it was shot down over Ukraine, with grieving relatives and the king and queen solemnly receiving the as yet unidentified victims.
Church bells rang out throughout the country as the planes touched down with the much-delayed return of the first 40 bodies of the 298 people killed in the disaster, most of them Dutch.
In a reminder of the ongoing war that is hampering recovery and investigation efforts, the Ukrainian military said that two of its fighter jets had been shot down today, possibly close to the Boeing’s crash site.
The Netherlands has been united in grief and growing anger because of delays in getting bodies home and over the way pro-Russian separatists have treated the crash site, bodies and personal possessions.
The planes left from Kharkiv in Ukraine, where the bodies were given a dignified ceremony as they were carried on board by army cadets before a small party of officials.
Around 1,000 bereaved relatives of the 193 Dutch dead, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and representatives of the other nations that lost citizens on the flight met the planes.
The bodies are to be transferred to a military base at Hilversum, southeast of Amsterdam, where forensics experts will identify them.
Flags of the 11 nations that lost citizens in the crash flew at half mast at the airport.
Uniformed members of the Dutch military marched to the planes to unload the wooden coffins, while a trumpeter played the Last Post and Reveille.
Motorways along the 100-kilometre route from Eindhoven to Hilversum have been closed for the long convoy of hearses to pass, one coffin per car.
A minute’s silence was observed nationwide, during which no flights landed or took off at Amsterdam Schiphol airport, from where the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight took off on Thursday.
US intelligence officials have said they believe rebels mistakenly shot down the plane that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a surface-to-air missile.
The rebels today used rockets to shoot down two Ukrainian Sukhoi fighter jets, although it was not clear exactly how far away from the Malaysia Airlines crash site.