Jul 22

Ukraine separatists use plane crash to promote cause



HRABOVE, Ukraine — Signs reading “Save the Donbass people from the Ukrainian Army” — a reference to a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine — line the road leading to the fields where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed.

They’re a not-so-subtle attempt to remind the throngs of international investigators, reporters and other visitors to this remote area of the separatists’ cause, even as the U.S. and Ukrainian governments accuse the insurgents of firing a Russian-made surface-to-air missile that downed the plane Thursday, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

“I feel for these people (victims),” a separatist fighter who identified himself only as Capt. Jaeger said as he stood guard at the nearby Torez train station Monday, as remains were stored until making their way through Ukraine to Amsterdam, where the flight originated. “But as you can see, my friends have died and are continuing to die.”

Jaeger said accusations that the separatists affiliated with the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic on the Russian border shot down the plane are wrong. He blamed forces loyal to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, as has Russia.

“We simply don’t have the weapons to bring down such a plane,” he said pointing to a dagger-like knife at his waist.” Ukraine’s national government in Kiev “is responsible,” he added.

The separatist leader’s claims and the signs dotting the road to the crash site illustrate how the Russian-backed rebels remain unbowed in the face of intense global criticism of them, not only for allegedly downing the plane but then for mishandling the site and interfering with an international investigation of the crash.

Four refrigerated rail cars carrying the bodies of 282 of the 298 victims of a downed Malaysian jetliner arrived in the city of Kharkiv, controlled by the Ukrainian national government, en route to Amsterdam.

The rebels blocked investigators from examining the scene for days, as they began removing bodies and other evidence from the huge debris field over the weekend, amid eyewitness accounts of decomposing bodies in the hot sun and looting of passenger belongings.

On Monday, they sent nearly all of the bodies of the victims by train to Kharkiv, a city held by Ukrainian troops, for identification and a flight to Amsterdam. They also turned over the data-filled “black boxes” of the Boeing 777 to the Malaysian government early Tuesday.

Even in their stronghold, the separatists’ mishandling of the crash scene has alienated some Donbass residents. Retired schoolteacher Vera Papchenka said the victims’ remains deserved better treatment.

“We want a fair investigation of this tragedy — there was a body of a child here,” she said, grieving at the scene where the remains of the cockpit lay. “We came here today to express our condolences to the children that died here. There were 80.”

Separatist forces have kept local residents from volunteering at the crash site. “They took one of my relatives because he went into the fields to help right after the crash, to see if there were survivors,” said Halina Vasilevna, 40, who lives near the site. “They took him away for three days, and we didn’t know where he was — they beat him up. We were so scared. These separatists — we know they beat people, and they steal vehicles at will.”

She was outraged enough to openly criticize the separatist cause, a rarity in this region. “Very few people here support the separatists,” Vasilevna said. “I want Ukraine to be one nation.”

Some say the rebels’ actions reflect how unprepared they were to manage a crisis with the world’s eyes on them and have undermined sympathy for their cause.

“The rebels are a bit confused because, if they did it, then it was probably by mistake,” said Sophia Pugsley, an expert on European affairs at the London-based European Council of Foreign Relations.

The Ukrainian national government has released the transcript of an alleged taped conversation in which a rebel leader said separatists thought they shot down a Ukrainian military plane.

Pugsley said Russian President Vladimir Putin may distance himself from the separatists as international condemnation of his support for the rebels builds and he faces the prospect of new European Union economic sanctions for failing to end the rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

Separatists say they won’t give up. “When you start a war, you finish it,” said a rebel guarding the crash site who only gave his name as Capt. Ugriumny. “We will only accept full capitulation and for government to recognize our region (as) separate.”

Jaeger says he has a good reason for not laying down his arms. “This is my homeland,” he said. “We have always lived here peacefully … Then (Ukrainian forces) started to shoot at us. My parents live here. I am just protecting them, my land.”

Serenelli reported from Berlin

Jul 22

4 Killed in Arizona Plane Crash That Sparks Fire

PHOTO: Smoke rises following a plane crash near Sedona, Arizona, July 20, 2014.

Associated Press

Four people were killed after their plane crashed near Sedona, and officials say it might have caused a fire.

The Federal Aviation Administration says hikers in the Bear Mountain area reported the crash and possible fire around 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office says fire crews found the single-engine plane about 6 p.m. in Fay Canyon. Officials say access to the crash site is difficult because of the terrain and fire.

The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/1oZWnn5) that firefighters, including helicopters and ground crews, are responding.

The newspaper reports that smoke is visible around Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

Jul 22

Plane crash victims identified as 2 Utah teens

Two teenage brothers headed to a basketball tournament were identified Monday as the victims in a fatal plane crash in the Virgin River Gorge.

The remains of Daulton Whatcott, 19, and Jaxon Whatcott, 16, both from Clinton, were recovered from the cliffside crash site on Monday.

“God took home two of his shining stars yesterday,” the boy’s father, Rhett Whatcott, wrote on his Facebook page Monday. “Daulton Rey Whatcott and Jaxon we love you forever and miss you until we see you again. Many thanks to the outpouring of love and support. They were loved by all, and I’m so thankful they had such great friends.”

The 1969 Cessna 172 departed Sunday from Beaver headed for Mesquite, Nevada, when it crashed into the mountainside just south of Interstate 15, Ian Gregor, public affair manager with the Federal Aviation Administration, said via email.

“A single-engine Cessna 172 crashed and burned under unknown circumstances in Littlefield,” Gregor wrote in the email. “The FAA and the (National Transportation Safety Board) will investigate this accident. NTSB is the lead investigative agency.”

Gregor said a basic preliminary report will be posed to the NTSB’s website, NTSB.gov, “within a week or two of the accident,” but it “typically takes (the) NTSB months to come up with a probable cause for accidents.”

According to a Mohave County Sheriff’s Office news release, deputies responded at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday to the crash, located 150 feet south of I-15 at mile post 14 south of the Virgin River Gorge.

Casie Forbes contributed to this report.

Follow David DeMille on Twitter, @SpectrumDemille.

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