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FAQ Special Operations Flight MH17

On this page you find anwers to the most frequently asked questions about the disaster with flight MH17 Malaysia Airlines.

Table of contents

What are the police doing in Ukraine at present?

On 8 August 2014, the repatriation mission in Eastern Ukraine was discontinued due to the deteriorated security conditions. A small team consisting of eight police officers remained in Kharkov by way of "interim presence". This team is the authority to whom the local population can give any mortal remains and personal items of victims. In addition, the team support, if desired, follow-up investigations and the possible salvaging of remaining debris of the MH-17 aeroplane. Their interim presence guarantees adequate preparations to continue the mission in the disaster area if and when the security conditions make this possible.

The resumption of the repatriation mission is also being prepared in the Netherlands. Police and the Ministry of Defence have made a plan for finding, securing and transporting all mortal remains, the victims' personal items and material for fact-finding to the Netherlands. The chief of police in Ukraine frequently travels between the Netherlands and Kharkov in order to discuss matters with all parties involved. The head of the repatriation mission, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, regularly goes to Kiev in order to consult the authorities in Ukraine.

When did the identification of the victims start?

The National Forensic Investigation Team, or LTFO, started the identification process on Wednesday evening (23/7), immediately after the arrival of the first bodies. On Saturday July 26, the first victim has been identified.

How long will the identification process take?

This is unkown. In some cases it may take weeks or even months. The relatives will be informed and the body will be released to them as soon as the identification has been completed.

Will all bodies, including those of the foreign victims, be identified in the Netherlands?

Yes, the foreign victims will also be identified in the Netherlands and will be repatriated after identification.

What nationalities are involved in the LTFO?

Forensic specialists from Australia, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia were also cooperating in Hilversum, the Netherlands. They totalled 200: 80 from abroad and 120 from the Netherlands. At present, 35 persons (from the Netherlands and Australia) are involved in the identification process.

Why were the barracks in Hilversum chosen?

This location offers the right facilities to carry out the identification. The barracks have a medical background – equipment and space are readily available – are centrally located and sufficiently protected. In addition, all forensic specialists can be accommodated on site.

How can someone’s identity be established?

This can be done on the basis of fingerprints, dental records or DNA profiles. But other physical characteristics, possessions and knowledge about an individual are also included in the process.

Is DNA profiling always used to establish the identity?

No, DNA profiling is only used if the identity cannot be established on the basis of dental records.

What will happen to the loose body parts?

The LTFO will also examine all individual body part to determine their identity.

What is the role of the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) in the identification process?

The NFI will carry out the DNA profiling, by order of the LTFO. This involves DNA profiling of the next of kin and of the victims.

How many people are involved in the identification process at the station?

A total of 35 people from Australia and the Netherlands

What specialists are included in the team?

The LTFO is a team that consists of police employees and partners. The police provides forensic experts; people whose daily duty it is to support the investigating officers of the police units with their forensic expertise. In addition, there are experts from the Ministry of Defence and dentists specialized in forensic examination.

Why does identification often take so long?

The identification process is based on accuracy, speed and attention for both the victim and the bereaved. The LTFO does its utmost to release the victims’ bodies to their next of kin as soon as possible. But the identification process needs to be carried with due care and is only complete when there is 100% certainty. We have only one chance to get it right.

Does the identification process in the Netherlands differ from the identification process in other countries?

No. All identification teams work according to a standard process established by Interpol. In other words, all teams work in exactly the same manner.

Are next of kin allowed to see the remains?

When a body has been identified and the relatives have indicated that they wish to see their loved one’s remains, the LTFO will do its utmost to accommodate their wishes. The LTFO’s Post Mortem Care unit is specialized in arranging things in this respect.

When was the LTFO established?

The team was established in 2007. From that time on in the Netherlands, all forensic expertise was combined in a single team. In case of a major disaster or a terrorist attack, all specialists can be summoned simultaneously.

Does every coffin contain one victim?

A coffin may contain one or several body bags. Investigation will have to determine whether a body bag contain a single body or body parts.

Is the identification of the bodies also part of a criminal investigation?

The investigation is primarily intended to identify the victims. But at the same time, we will carry out a fact-finding investigation. We immediately examine the bodies for traces. This will not slow down the identification process.

How many bodies have been identified?

Were the bodies intact?

No, they were not. At the barracks in Hilversum, the identification team examined and described bodies and body parts.

The bodies have spent a certain period of time in the disaster area before they were retrieved. Does this impede the identification?

It will not impede the identification as such, but will make the job of the forensic specialists more difficult.

Will the LTFO carry out some sort of autopsy to determine the cause of death or to find bullet or shell fragments?

In addition to identification, we simultaneously carry out a fact-finding investigation. We immediately search the body for traces. Of course this will not slow down the identification process.

What will happen to the victims’ personal belongings that are still at the disaster site?

Malaysia Airlines is responsible for collecting the personal belongings and handing them over to the next of kin.

What is the task of the family officers?

The family officers have two tasks:

  1. Every family officers couple acts as contact for the relatives during the entire identification process, in other words: until the body of their loved one has been released.
  2. In addition, they talk to the relatives to gather as much information as possible about the missing persons, such as a physical description, special characteristics like tattoos, fingerprints, dental record and DNA material. This information is needed for the identification.

Who are these family liaison officers?

Family liaison officers are police officers who have received special training to act as contact for relatives in the case of criminal offences. They have been selected for their empathic skills, but are not psychologists or social workers.

Have you been using these family liaison officers for long?

Family liaison officers have been deployed in criminal investigations for quite a while. They acted as contacts for the relatives for the first time when the plane disaster in Tripoli took place in 2010.

There appear to be dogs among the victims' personal belonings. What will happen to them?

Unfortunately, unlike previous (media)messages, at the moment LTFO cannot tell whether the dogs will be returned to the Netherlands. It is not clear where the remains are. If the team finds remains of pets, the possibility of transport will be examined.

When does the investigation into the victims’ identity start?

The National Forensic Investigation Team (LTFO) started its first investigation in the context of the identification process in the evening of Wednesday 23 July, immediately after the first bodies had arrived.

Is DNA testing always used to determine the identity?

No, not always. DNA testing is used only if the identity cannot be established on the basis of dental records.

What happens after a victim has been identified?

As soon as the identification team comes to a positive identification, the family liaison officer will inform the victim’s relatives. If your family liaison officer has not contacted you, the identified victim is not your relative. The mayor of the deceased’s place of residence will be informed after the identification.

The media will be informed about the first positive identification. They will only be informed about the victim’s nationality, but will not be told his or her name or place of residence. In the future, the media will be informed from time to time, but they will not be informed about each positive identification.

Are any tracker dogs used to search for victims at the disaster site?

Yes, human scent tracker dogs are used at the site of the crash. We cannot disclose information about the number of dogs used and the intensity of their activities.

How many family liaison officers are deployed during this investigation?

A total of 106 family liaison officers have been deployed.

Are family liaison officer available on demand?

Yes. Normally they work as investigation officers for one of the Dutch criminal investigation units. Family liaison officer is an extra task for which they are always on call.

How long will the family liaison officers be available to the families?

In principle, their work ends when the identification has been completed and the body has been released to the relatives. Often, there will be a final meeting, and it is not inconceivable that occasional contact takes place long after that. After all, a bond of trust has been established between the officers and the family.

Do family liaison officers operate alone or in couples?

They always operate in couples. These can consist of two men, two women or a man and a woman. So they never operate on their own.

How many family liaison officers are deployed during this investigation?

Presently, 106 family liaison officers are deployed in the Netherlands.

Have any foreign family liaison officers been deployed as part of this investigation?

Yes, the investigation is carried out in accordance with standardized procedure in all affected countries, so the investigation is conducted in the same way everywhere.

Did the team succeed in identifying all bodies and/or body parts?

The process of identification may take months. The bodies and body parts that were taken to the barracks in Hilversum have been examined and described.

Did you encounter technical difficulties or limitations during the identification process?

No, we did not. LTFO's working area was well fitted and with the appropriate equipment.

Did LTFO officers wear protective clothing during the identification?

LTFO officers did indeed wear protective clothing during the identification process, including white overalls, face masks with filter, and boots.

Why are the barracks in Hilversum considered a crime scene?

The identification process is seen as part of a criminal investigation.

Has LTFO been able to fully identify all bodies/body parts?

All bodies and body parts taken to Hilversum haven been examined and described. This does not mean that all have been successfully identified.

Where are the bodies and/or body parts now?

The bodies and body parts are kept in cool storage. The foreign victims will be taken to Schiphol Airport awaiting repatriation to their home countries. The Dutch victims remain in the Netherlands. In deliberation with family liaison officers, who play an important role in all of this, they will be returned to the next of kin.

How are the bodies and/or body parts kept?

The bodies and body parts are kept in a respectful and dignified manner.

How long will LTFO continue its activities?

LTFO will continue until the identification process has been fully completed.

Was it easy, or difficult, for LTFO to cooperate and communicate with its foreign partners?

The identification process is internationally standardized. This makes it easier to carry out what is necessary and facilitates smooth cooperation. The standard terminology and English as the common language meant that there were almost no communication issues. 

How does LTFO recruit its officers?

The officers deployed by LTFO carry out their work as an additional task. In case of a disaster or calamity, officers with the right skills who have expressed their willingness to participate are called upon. The same procedure is followed abroad.

Will all officers return to their day jobs?

 Yes, as LTFO work is an additional task, all officers will return to their day jobs as soon as the process has completely been finished.

Are arrangements in place for people who have to return to their day jobs?

Yes, these arrangements include a gradual return, with appropriate support provided by the police force.

How long will the barracks in Hilversum remain available for the investigation?

As long as is necessary.

Have personal belongings been found on the bodies/body parts?

Yes, they have. Such belongings (jewellery, clothes, or other personal objects) greatly contribute to the identification.

Are the personal belongings exclusively used for identification purposes, or will they be used for other investigations as well?

They will be used both for identification and for the criminal investigation of the crash.

Have personal belongings been returned to the next of kin?

Yes, the personal belongings of the victims who have been identified have been returned to the next of kin.