Air crash investigators set up search base at scene of MH17 tragedy

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International investigators have arrived at the Malaysia Airlines crash scene in eastern Ukraine and started preparations to comb the rural area for remains.

Several hours before they arrived, at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by pro-Russian separatist rebels in a town close to the wreckage site.

Thirteen more soldiers were unaccounted for after the attack, officials said, and the bodies of four more people were being examined to determine whether they were soldiers or rebels.

The investigators from the Netherlands and Australia plus officials with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe travelled from the rebel-held city of Donetsk in 15 cars and a bus to the crash site outside the village of Hrabove. Then they started setting up a base to work from at a chicken farm.

The investigative team’s top priority is to recover human remains that have been rotting in midsummer heat of 32C (90F) since the plane went down on July 17. They will also try to retrieve the belongings of the 298 people killed who were on board the Boeing 777.

Ukraine and the West contend the plane was shot down by the rebels with a Russian-supplied missile. Rebel leaders publicly deny this.

The search effort came after a smaller advance team managed to perform a preliminary survey of the area a day earlier. Independent observers warned that there has been tampering with evidence.