The crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which went down yesterday afternoon after being shot with a missile, is now being looted. This is not only causing issues for the investigation, but also for the families of the victims on board, who will now not be able to recover the lost property of the 298 dead passengers and crew.
After the crash, investigators were unable to get to the site quickly and rope it off to preserve evidence. This allowed armed separatists and locals to essentially raid the scene. Suitcases were removed from the wreckage and pillaged. The coldhearted looters stole a variety of personal possessions, but left behind some apparent undesirables: a Minnie Mouse lunchbox, a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal, family photographs, and intact passports.
As for what they took, wallets and credit cards were a favorite. A photojournalist at the scene said, "There isn't a single cellphone, wallet with money or camera to be found in any handbag or on the bodies. It's like they all mysteriously disappeared overnight."
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister (who was also one of the first to blame pro-Russian separatists for the crash) reported that jewelry and credit cards were among the items being pilfered. A post on his Facebook page reads in English, "I have just now received information That Terrorists - Death-hunters collecting Were not Only Cash money and Jewelry of the crashed Boing [sic] passengers died but Also the credit cards of the Victims. Currently They might as well TRY to use Them in Ukraine or Pass Them on to Russia. My humble Request to the Relatives of the Victims to Freeze Their credit cards, so That They will not loose Their assets to Terrorists!"
Because investigators and officials arrived after many of the items were already stolen, it is impossible to tell exactly how many items are missing, where they went, or what value they may have had to the investigation. The investigators discovered the looting when they began to look at the luggage, only to find it had already been pulled out and sifted through. Bruce Rodger, an aviation expert who spoke with The Wire, warned that this inference will greatly hinder efforts to understand what happened.
The entire investigation lacks organization at this point. The crash site is huge, about ten miles across, and this is adding to the chaos. Because of the size of the site and the looting, it is hard to categorize debris and evidence. Much of the debris has not be categorized by type or location, as is usual in a crime scene of this sort. CNN also reports that some of the bodies were moved to another location for storage, but again, not before the scene was properly secured.
Additionally, there are numerous unidentified men on the scene (some of them armed), which makes it easy for anyone to walk on and off the unroped site without being apprehended. Investigators believe the amount of strange, unknown civilians at the site contributed to the looting, as the crowds of onlookers just added to the madness.
An investigation crew on the ground will continue to go through what is left of the wreckage and personal possessions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.