TOREZ, Ukraine – Pro-Moscow rebels piled nearly 200 bodies from the downed Malaysian jetliner into four refrigerated boxcars Sunday in eastern Ukraine, and cranes at the crash scene moved big chunks of the Boeing 777, drawing condemnation from Western leaders that the rebels were tampering with the site.
More than three days after the jetliner crashed, international investigators still had only limited access to the crash site.
The 42-square-mile crash site, spread out on farmland and villages, looked dramatically different Sunday, a day after armed rebels had stood guard while dozens of bodies lay in the summer heat. The rebels were gone, and 192 bodies were loaded into the refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, nine miles away.
Emergency workers, who the rebels have allowed to operate under their control, were searching the sprawling fields. Cranes moved pieces of the plane around, apparently to look for more bodies underneath.
By Sunday night, Ukraine’s emergency services agency said the total number of bodies found was 251, with dozens of body parts.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed outrage at the “grotesque” behavior of the rebels at the crash scene.
“Drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the back of trucks, removing materials from the site,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “On Friday, we had 75 minutes of access to the site; on Saturday, three hours of access. This is an insult to everybody.”
Rebel leader Alexander Borodai denied the rebels were trying to tamper with evidence, saying the bodies would be turned over to a team of Malaysian experts he was expecting.
Borodai insisted the rebels have not interfered with the investigation, and said he would turn over the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders, or “black boxes,” as well.
“The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive,” Borodai said.
But it was clear that the rebels were interfering in the investigation.
Lyubov Kudryavets, a worker at the Torez morgue, said that on the evening the plane went down, a resident brought in the body of a child, about 7 or 8 years old. On Saturday, militiamen came to take the body away, she said.
“They began to question me: ‘Where are the fragments of rocket? Where are the fragments from the plane?’ ” Kudryavets said.
Experts said that even if investigators are granted access now, it might be too late.