During its first day at the MH17 crash site a team comprising Australian police has recovered human remains and property.
Australian police have recovered human remains and passenger belongings from the MH17 crash site during their first visit to the area.
Federal police were part of an 80-strong Australian and Dutch team that has spent five hours combing farmland, paddocks and villages in eastern Ukraine in an operation that could last up to 10 days.
While deadly clashes between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian rebels continued nearby, the recovery mission was not under threat, Australian Federal Police national security specialist Andrew Colvin said.
“All parties involved respected the conditions set to allow safe passage both in an out of the wreckage site and at the wreckage site itself,” Deputy Commissioner Colvin told reporters in Canberra on Saturday.
Australian representatives were not armed during the visit on Friday and there are no plans to carry arms to the site, concealed or otherwise, he said.
Assuming conditions in the area remain stable, he expects the mission to recover bodies will last seven to 10 days.
The team’s focus is purely humanitarian and will not consider gathering evidence to investigate the crash, he added.
“We are focused on removing the remains and bringing some closure to the families.”
Bodies and belongings will be taken to the Netherlands for identification.
And as soon as the team has done “the best we can do, we will get out”,he said.
He is confident the search will continue on Saturday but admits safety considerations need to be assessed daily.
“We won’t take any unnecessary risks.”
Police are working in hot and difficult conditions at the site.
Each day the team will travel from an Australian base located away from the crash site.
It is more than two weeks since the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet came down after being hit by a missile, killing all 298 people on board, including 38 Australian residents.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed news that Australian police have accessed the crash site, but warned that a lengthy task still lay ahead.
He could not say how many bodies had been recovered overnight, nor how many more could lay undiscovered in the 50 square kilometre search area.
“It will be a long and slow process and I expect our officials will be on site for a week or so yet and that’s assuming nothing goes wrong,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
He said police are working under difficult and dangerous conditions in a high-risk environment but that their efforts are justified by the importance of the task.
Remains will be taken to the Netherlands as quickly as possible but the prime minister added delays are still likely.
“By way of possible parallel, after the Bali bombing it was some three weeks before the first victims were identified and some five months before the last victim was identified and brought home.”