MH17 wreck collected by local emergency services

The flight went down in Ukraine on July 17, killing 298 people.

FILE: Australian and Dutch investigators examine a piece of debris of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove, 100 km from Donetsk, Ukraine, on 1 August 2014. Picture: EPA.

KIEV - Local emergency services in eastern Ukraine have begun collecting parts of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from its crash site in the middle of the conflict zone, Dutch air accident investigators said on Sunday.

Dutch inspectors had hoped to collect the parts themselves, following the downing of the flight on July 17 that killed 298 people, two thirds of them Dutch citizens.

But they remain concerned about the safety of their staff in the rebel-held conflict zone, and so have decided to work with local services following an initial focus on finding human remains and belongings.

The crash of flight MH17 stirred angry mutual accusations between Moscow and the West over who was responsible.

The Dutch Safety Board said it had commissioned Ukraine's State Emergency Service to collect parts of the wreckage from the crash site on its behalf.

The air safety inspectorate intends to reconstruct parts of the airliner in the Netherlands in order to ascertain the cause of the crash.

"The crash area is large, so we do not intend to recover all the wreckage," said Safety Board spokesman Wim van der Weegen. "We've got a specific number of items we would like to recover."

Dutch authorities are leading both the air accident and criminal investigation into the downing of the Kuala Lumpur-bound Boeing 777 from Amsterdam.

But the government has faced growing criticism from victims' families and lawmakers for lack of progress in the investigation.

Kiev accuses pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane. Russia says a Ukrainian military aircraft shot down MH17.

Around a dozen Dutch officials are on the site supervising the work of Ukrainian emergency services, including two Safety Board employees, van der Weegen said.

The board said the initial collection would take a few days depending on fighting and weather conditions, and that wreckage would first be stored near the crash site before being taken to the regional capital Kharkiv to be flown to the Netherlands.

An interim report published in September which was based on data from the aircraft's black box recorders, photographic and radar evidence, and satellite imagery, said the Boeing 777 was brought down by "high energy objects" in its vicinity, consistent with attack from the air or the ground.