As a military trumpet sounded in tribute, the first bodies of victims from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday after an airborne journey from Ukraine.
Sixteen coffins were aboard a Dutch military flight and 24 aboard an Australian jet, both of which left the northeast Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after a solemn ceremony. They landed a couple of hours later at Amsterdam’s small Eindhoven airport to a somber reception from King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and others.
Black hearses pulled up on the tarmac to receive the coffins. A moment of silence was observed.
Wednesday was an official day of mourning in the Netherlands, with bells tolling throughout the country at various times of the day. Flags on all Dutch government buildings and diplomatic missions around the world were ordered to fly at half staff.
From Eindhoven, the bodies were to be flown to an army barracks in the town of Hilversum, about 20 miles from the Dutch capital, where the process of identifying the remains will get underway.
In Kharkiv, Ukrainian soldiers lined the runway as the coffins were carried on to the Dutch military plane, and government officials from several countries offered short speeches. “Today, your journey home begins,” said Hans Docter, a representative from the Dutch government. The crash on Thursday killed 298 people, 193 of them Dutch citizens.
More planes are scheduled to arrive in Ukraine on Thursday, with the goal of transporting all recovered bodies to the Netherlands by Friday.
In Ukraine, Dutch investigators continued their inspection of a train carrying the remains of at least 200 victims, which arrived from the separatist-controlled town of Torez on Tuesday. The Ukrainian government and opposition pro-Russia separatists have said that 282 bodies have been recovered from the crash site so far.
Investigators from Malaysia and the Netherlands have also started to inspect the crash site near the eastern town of Grabove, where there is concern that wreckage has been removed or altered.
Also arduous, Dutch officials said, will be the process of identifying the bodies, with experts saying the full task could take weeks or even months.
Staff writer Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.
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