KHARKIV, Ukraine — In a somber ceremony both moving and meaningful, white-gloved Ukrainian soldiers Wednesday respectfully carried the bodies of passengers killed in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to the airplane that would carry them to a waiting king and queen, and a grieving nation on an official day of mourning.
The nearly martial honors afforded the remains on a sunny tarmac in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv contrasted sharply with how they were first treated in death — first blown out of the sky by a suspected surface-to-air missile, then allowed to remain exposed to the elements for days. In some cases, furious Dutch officials say, they were stripped of their personal belongings.
The first of two military aircraft carrying 40 bodies was expected to arrive in the Dutch city of Eindhoven at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET). A lone bugler will mark the arrival, followed by a minute of silence across the nation. Families of the dead and Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will be on hand.
Of the 298 people who died aboard Flight 17, 193 were Dutch citizens.
The ceremonies come amid continued confusion over who shot the plane down, and why, and want happened to the evidence where the plane fell to earth in fields deep in eastern Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
‘Black boxes’ arrive in UK
It took days for Ukrainian rebels who control the area of the crash site to hand over the bodies and the airliners’ black boxes to Malaysian officials.
Now, the voice and flight data recorders are in Britain for what will be a detailed scouring by international analysts, officials said.
The Dutch Safety Board is leading the Flight 17 investigation. Dutch officials had asked for help from British accident investigators to retrieve data from the boxes for international analysis, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
Analyzing data from the black boxes could take several weeks, the Safety Board said.
But the black boxes might not help answer the two most pressing questions: who shot down the plane, and why.
And after global debate over whether planes should fly over conflict zones, the Safety Board said it will conduct two additional probes: “an investigation into the decision-making for flight routes and an investigation into the availability of passenger lists.”
Some bodies unaccounted for
Once in the Netherlands, the bodies will be taken to a military facility for forensic testing, Dutch officials say. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it could take weeks or even months to identify the remains.
Officials gave conflicting reports about how many bodies were on the train that traveled from the crash site to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.
Malaysian official Mohd Sakri, who traveled on the train with the remains, said there were 282 corpses and 87 body parts aboard — the same tally Ukrainian officials earlier gave to describe the remains recovered from the crash site.
But Dutch investigators only confirmed there were at least 200 bodies transported from the crash site, according to Jan Tuinder, head of the Dutch delegation
Another Dutch official said investigators were still going through the train cars and it was possible that all the crash victims were on the train.
But officials said Monday that at the least, the bodies of 16 people were still unaccounted for. Their remains may still be scattered across a debris field spanning several miles.
Bodies landed near orphanage
The massive and ghastly debris field means many residents are traumatized.
Children at an orphanage in Rozsypne village were playing outside when the plane exploded. They saw the body of one boy hit the earth.
One of their teachers, Valentina, remembers their horror.
“These are dead bodies!” the children screamed, Valentina said.
She points to a large divot in the grass where a woman’s body had landed, not far from where the children were playing.
Some of the orphans screamed, Valentina said. Others just sat and cried.
The latest accusations
Meanwhile, the finger-pointing between Russia, Ukraine, Ukrainian rebels and the United States over who shot down the plane gets more complicated by the day.
Vitaly Nayda, Ukraine’s director of informational security, told CNN’s Kyung Lah that the person who shot down the flight was “absolutely” a Russian. “A Russian-trained, well-equipped, well-educated officer … pushed that button deliberately,” he said.
“We taped conversations” between a Russian officer and his office in Moscow, Nayda said. “We know for sure that several minutes before the missile was launched, there was a report” to a Russian officer that the plane was coming, he said.
U.S. officials say pro-Russian rebels were responsible for shooting down the plane, but they now say they believe it’s likely the rebels didn’t know it was a commercial airliner, U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday.
Moscow has denied claims that it pulled the trigger. And Russian Army Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov suggested a Ukrainian jet fighter may have shot the plane down.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rejected that in an exclusive interview with CNN, saying that all Ukrainian aircraft were on the ground at the time.
And pro-Russian rebels have repeatedly denied responsibility for the attack.
Search for MH370 to resume
In addition to the tumult surrounding the Flight 17 tragedy, Malaysia Airlines is also grappling with the disappearance Flight 370, which was carrying 239 people when it fell off the radar on March 8.
Officials believe the Boeing 777 crashed into the Indian Ocean as it was flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. Searches for the aircraft has been unsuccessful.
But authorities said Wednesday they will resume their efforts in early September. The search will probably take up to a year to complete, they said.