Investigators reach MH17 crash site

A small advance team of Australian and Dutch investigators has managed to access the MH17 crash site in Ukraine but the area remains risky, with their convoy and media crews being fired upon.

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A larger team of 40 is planning to go to the site later today but the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe says that will depend on a security assessment.

Extremely dangerous, is how Foreign Minister Julie Bishop describes the mission, and media representatives have found out for themselves just how dangerous it is.

SBS Dateline journalist Nick Lazaredes and his crew are lucky to be alive after coming under fire as they approached the crash site.

“We got as far as we could and then there was a tree across the road. We rang the mayor of the town who was going to come and meet us and guide us to safety and then we came under gunfire, so we hit the ground and eventually our driver managed to get us out of the situation. He took off his shirt, which was white, and waved it out of the car. We put our heads down and we drove out: we were fired upon again as we drove out.”

Before escaping, the reporters got close enough to see that parts of the crash site were alight.

“There were fires burning all around today. Now that wreckage is burning. I’m sorry to say it but I mean, I guess, bodies and body parts are burning, I mean it’s really a terrible situation and to have to negotiate your safe passage every day into this mess is going to be really, really difficult.”

At this stage the plan is to send in a larger team.

Alexander Hug is deputy head of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“What we will try to do tomorrow is to see of course a difference between what we have seen today and how the picture will be there tomorrow if we reach the scene again. It is a permanent reassessment, constantly, by the hour if not less on the situation”

Negotiating safe passage has been the subject of talks in Belarus between Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.

Ukraine’s parliament has given Australian and Dutch officers the legal authority to lead the forensic investigation at the crash site.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the vote gives the police teams an insurance policy by allowing them to carry weapons.

But she says they will not take arms onto the site and it will remain a police-led humanitarian mission.

There are reports memebers of Australia’s elite Special Air Service are on standby.

But SBS journalist Nick Lazarades says in the absence of any agreement guaranteeing the safety of the mission, it might be something that requires peacekeepers.

“The Prime Minister had said we’re in for the long haul and I’m afraid that’s probably what it’s going to be but let’s hope that by some chance there’s some other political resolution or that peacekeepers are deployed. I think that’s what it really requires, certainly to guarantee safety you’d be looking a no less than the SAS, you’d want that protection, I think and at the end of the day can you afford to get them drawn into this messy battle over here?”

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