Thousands of people lined the roads in the Netherlands on Wednesday, solemnly applauding the slow procession of 40 black hearses carrying the bodies of passengers killed when their passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Some threw flowers in front of the cars, while others quietly lay bouquets and lit candles at the many impromptu memorials that have sprung up around the country.
A memorial service was held in Hilversum for the 298 passengers and crew killed when the plane was shot down six days ago. Among the dead were 193 Dutch. Outside the service, mounds of flowers were laid out on the ground in the form of an airplane.
Earlier in the day, plain wooden coffins carrying some of the bodies of those killed were silently lowered into the waiting hearses at the Netherlands’ Eindhoven air base before leaving for Hilversum where the remains are to identified.
The ceremony took place on the runway as dignitaries looked on. Flags at the airport flew at half staff, rippling in a breeze as coffin after coffin were taken off the two military planes that left Ukraine hours before. More caskets are expected to arrive soon.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, dressed in black, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte were among those at the ceremony.
The passenger plane was cruising over the fields of eastern Ukraine, more than 10,000 meters above ground and traveling in an internationally recognized air transport corridor when it apparently was knocked out of the sky – reportedly by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile.
Dutch authorities on Wednesday delivered the plane’s two so-called “black boxes” containing data and voice recordings from the MH17 flight to Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch for download. The Dutch experts said there was no evidence the data had been tampered with. Ukraine has placed the Dutch in charge of investigating the disaster.
Ukraine’s government blames separatist rebels supported by Moscow for the attack. U.S. officials say ill-trained pro-Russian rebels likely shot down the jetliner by mistake, thinking they were firing at a Ukrainian aircraft.
U.S. intelligence officials have been telling reporters they found no evidence of direct Russian involvement in the incident, and they do not know whether any Russian troops were present when the missile was fired. They added that Moscow’s active support for separatists trying to secede from Ukraine, however, “created the conditions” that led to last week’s fatal attack.
(Mourners laid flowers on overpasses along the route of the cortege carrying the remains of passengers from flight MH17. Photo: Matthijs H/flickr.com)