Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners — dressed in overalls and covered in soot — searched Friday through wreckage and bodies scattered over a wide stretch of Ukrainian farmland after a Malaysian jetliner flying high above Ukraine’s battlefield was shot down from the sky, killing 298 people.
Separatist rebels who control the area where the plane went down said they had recovered most of the plane’s black boxes and were considering what to do with them. Their statement had profound implications for the integrity of the plane crash investigation.
Ukraine, whose investigators have no access to the area, has called for an international probe to determine who attacked the plane and insisted that it was not its military. U.S. intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile downed the plane, but could not say who fired it.
For the first day in months, there was no sign of fighting in the area on Friday, though there was no official word of a cease-fire either. But access remained difficult and dangerous. The road from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, to the crash site was marked by five rebel checkpoints on Friday, with document checks at each.
The crash site was sprawling, spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine. Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline’s red, white and blue markings lay strewn over one field. The cockpit and one turbine lay a kilometer (a half-mile) apart, and residents said the tail landed another 10 kilometers (six miles) away, indicating the aircraft most likely broke up before hitting the ground.
Bodies and body parts were everywhere: in a sunflower field, even in the streets of the rebel-held village of Rozsypne, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border. One rebel militiamen in the village said that he had seen a part of the fuselage, more evidence the plane was struck by a projectile.
The area has seen heavy fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists, and rebels had bragged about shooting down two Ukrainian military jets in the region just a day earlier.
Ukraine accused the rebels of shooting down the Malaysia Airways plane. The rebels denied it and accused government forces of the same; President Petro Poroshenko denied it as well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the downing, saying it was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions — but did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and not address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the rebels, a charge that Moscow denies.
Poroshenko called the attack an “act of terrorism” and demanded an international investigation.
An assistant to the insurgency’s military commander, Igor Girkin, said Friday on condition of anonymity that eight out of the plane’s 12 recording devices had been located at the crash site. He did continued…