AMSTERDAM - The head of the Dutch-led international team investigating the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 disaster says his group has retrieved additional DNA samples from 25 victims at a mortuary in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said from Kiev Wednesday the team had also recovered personal belongings of 27 victims at the mortuary.
However, fighting still raged nearby as the investigators, two each from the Netherlands and Australia, made an initial survey of the area. Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels, fired shells at each other on fields in a nearby village.
Despite the dangers, the team called the one-hour inspection a success. "Today was more about an assessment of the site than it was of a search," said Australian Federal Police commander Brian McDonald.
For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been decaying in the 90-degree midsummer heat.
Independent observers warned that evidence was being tampered with. But after negotiations, the investigators were allowed through the final rebel checkpoint at the village of Rozsypne on Thursday afternoon by a rifle-toting militiaman who then fired a warning shot to prevent reporters from accompanying the convoy.
Flight 17 was shot down in an area held by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 people on board.
Remains of around 200 victims were transferred to the Netherlands earlier and are being painstakingly identified. Remains of another 80 people are believed to still lay unrecovered at the crash site.