Here’s What Has Happened Since The Malaysian Plane Went Down

A memorial forming the letters MH17 to mourn the victims of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LAI SENG SIN
A memorial forming the letters MH17 to mourn the victims of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LAI SENG SIN

It’s been three days since a commercial plane was shot down over Ukraine, killing the hundreds of people on board. While some of the questions about the crash have been resolved, many details remain murky, and new controversies have begun to unfold. Here’s what has happened since Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 fell from the sky on Thursday:

A list of all the passengers and crew members aboard MH17 has been released.

On Saturday, the official manifest from the flight was released, providing a comprehensive list of the people who were aboard MH17. That helped bring clarity to some earlier reports about the passengers; for instance, although it was initially feared that as many as 100 prominent AIDS researchers were on the plane on their way to a major public health conference, the manifest reveals that just six conference attendees were on the flight. The New York Times is currently compiling profiles of the victims of the crash, and inviting those individuals’ loved ones to share memories about them.

And even more information about the victims’ final hours may become available soon. On Sunday, Ukrainian rebels said they’ve recovered the plane’s black boxes — the electronic recording devices that facilitate the investigation of aviation accidents — and promised to hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The plane victims’ bodies have been seized by pro-Russian rebels.

According to several media reports, separatist rebels have seized all of the bodies that have been recovered from the site of the MH17 crash. Ukrainian officials say that armed rebels forced the emergency workers at the scene to hand over all 196 bodies, and then loaded them onto refrigerated train cars bound for the rebel-held city of Torez. One emergency worker told the Associated Press that they simply had no choice but to relinquish the bodies: “They are armed and we are not. The militiamen came, put the bodies onto the trucks and took them away.”

The rebel leaders say they removed the bodies in order be “humane,” intending to keep them preserved until they’re able to be identified. They maintain that they will not withhold them from Western powers. But the move has horrified the international community. “What’s happening is really grotesque,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on Meet The Press on Sunday morning. A statement from his office added that seizing the bodies represents an “affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve.”

There will be an international investigation into the crash, although rebels are already being accused of tampering with evidence.

On Friday, President Obama called for a “credible international investigation” into what happened with MH17. Ukraine has also urged Moscow to exert its influence over the pro-Russia rebels to ensure that international experts are given the ability to conduct a “thorough, impartial investigation” into the plane crash. Nonetheless, there’s been widespread outrage over the way that the wreckage is being handled so far. The U.S. State Department has accused separatist rebels of tampering with the evidence at the crash site.

According to reports, “intoxicated, aggressive gunmen” have been preventing international monitors from having enough access to the remains. In addition to bodies being removed, monitors from Europe’s Organization for Security and Cooperation say that debris and evidence is also being dragged away from the area. There are questions about where the black boxes actually are and whether the rebels have moved them. Some reports alleges there’s been looting at the site, as rebels are rifling through dead passengers’ bags and taking anything that isn’t broken.

During an appearance on Face the Nation on Sunday, Kerry called on Russia to do more to protect the investigation while it proceeds. “Because of Russia’s linkage to these separatists, they have a greater ability to exert influence, and we need Russia to become part of the solution, not part of the problem,” the secretary of state said. “The evidence is there. But we need a full access to this site in order to conduct a thorough investigation.”

U.S. and Ukrainian officials say there’s mounting evidence that Russia supplied the technology necessary to shoot down the plane.

Who’s really at fault for the crash has been an open question — the Russian rebels maintain they don’t have the capacity to shoot down a plane at that height; Ukraine insists that the rebels must have done it with help from Russia; and Russian officials have denied all involvement and suggested that Kiev’s military is at fault. But officials from the United States and Ukraine are saying that the emerging evidence points to Russia.

On Face the Nation, Kerry said that there’s an “enormous amount of evidence” that Russia supplied the separatist rebels with the training and tools they needed to shoot down the Malaysian plane, pointing out that this isn’t the first time they’ve shot down an aircraft. Meanwhile, Ukraine now says that it can prove Russia provided the surface-to-air missile system that downed the plane, claiming that it has photographic evidence of the missiles being transported into Ukraine.

Tensions with Russia are escalating.

The United States has already upped its economic sanctions on Russia, and its major European allies appear to be considering following suit. “We hope this is a wake-up call for some countries in Europe that have been reluctant to move,” the secretary of state said on Face the Nation this weekend.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have suggested the evidence that Russia may have been involved in the crash could have serious ramifications. “This should be a game changer if we find out that either it was Russian-back separatists who did this or Russia itself,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told reporters on Friday. Meanwhile, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-NY) maintained that the U.S. should be pursuing diplomatic solutions with Russia, but agreed that the relations between the two countries are “now at Cold War levels.”