MH17: Victims flown out of Ukraine

Honorary guards placed coffins on the plane after a short and sombre ceremony.

Ukrainian soldiers carry coffins with the remains of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash to a military plane during a ceremony at the airport of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on 23 July 2014. Picture: AFP.

KHARKIV - A Dutch air force transport plane carrying the first 16 coffins with the remains of victims of the downed Malaysian airliner took off on Wednesday from an airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for the Netherlands.

Honorary guards placed wooden coffins on the plane after a short and sombre ceremony held on the tarmac before it took off.

All 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 perished when it was brought down last Thursday over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev is struggling to quell a pro-Russian separatist rebellion.

Many of the victims were Dutch and the Netherlands will carry out their identification.

At the ceremony, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said the downing of the plane was an "inhumane terrorist act" carried out with help from Russia.

Kiev will do everything in its power to bring those guilty to justice, he added.

A Canadian military transport plane is due to leave Kharkiv with 24 more coffins later on Wednesday.

Russia has blamed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for the crash because he refused to extend a ceasefire with the separatist fighters. Moscow denies supporting the separatists.

US intelligence officials said on Tuesday Washington believed pro-Russian separatists probably shot the plane down "by mistake", not realising it was a civilian passenger flight.

At the same time, the black box flight recorders from the Malaysian airliner downed in eastern Ukraine have arrived in Britain, the Ukrainian government's special investigation commission said on Wednesday.

"Today ... the black boxes from the airliner Boeing 777 arrived in Britain under the supervision of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization)," the commission said on its Facebook page.

MH17 SHOT DOWN 'BY MISTAKE'

The US government believes that pro-Russian separatists most likely shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet "by mistake", not realising it was a civilian passenger flight, US intelligence officials said on Tuesday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the "most plausible explanation"

for the destruction of the plane was that the separatists fired a Russian-made SA-11 missile at it after mistaking it for another kind of aircraft.

"Five days into it [following the crash] it does appear to be a mistake," one of the officials said in a briefing for reporters.

The officials said that their assessments were backed up by evidence from social media and by intercepted conversations of known pro-Russian separatists, whose voice prints had been verified by U.S. agencies.

The speakers initially bragged about shooting down a transport plane, but later acknowledged that they might have made a mistake, the officials said.

US President Barack Obama's administration has said it is convinced the airliner was brought down last Thursday by an SA-11 ground-to-air missile fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

US officials said earlier that satellite data showed a plume of smoke left in the missile's trail that allowed analysts to calculate a launch area near the Russia-Ukraine border. They also said infrared sensors detected the explosion of the jet.

OBAMA VOWS JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS

The United States will not rest until justice is done in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 over eastern Ukraine, Obama vowed in a condolence book for the nearly 300 victims on Tuesday.

Obama visited the Netherlands Embassy in Washington to sign the book. Of the 298 people killed in the crash, 193 were Dutch.

"No words can adequately express the sorrow the world feels over this loss. It is made more acute by the deep ties of friendship between our two countries," the president wrote in the book.

"Bound by that friendship, we will not rest until we are certain that justice is done," he wrote.

Obama later left on a three-day trip to Washington state and California that will be dominated by fund-raisers for Democratic congressional candidates.

Congress members pushed for tougher action. The Democratic leaders of the US Senate's national security committees called on Obama to impose immediate broad sanctions on Russia's defence industry, including the state-owned arms exporter Rosboronexport.