Kenyon has very strong opinions regarding mass fatality operations. While Kenyon is not involved in the investigation or recovery operations of MH17, I’ve written an open letter to the leaders of this process. Below, I’ll discuss how the situation developed and information on the path forward.
There are 3 complex issues here and they are all related. The first issue is blame. Within minutes of the loss, many countries condemned Ukraine Separatists of a missile launch, which brought down the plane, a clear violation of international law. The Ukraine Separatists and their ally (Russia) denied this and blamed the Ukrainians. Blame should have been determined after the investigation.
The second issue is practical authority. Because the wreckage is in the territory controlled by the Separatists, the Ukraine government does not have the practical authority / ability to investigate the loss, or to recover, identify and repatriate the deceased and their personal effects. So, control is with the Separatists.
The third issue is trust. Because many countries immediately blamed the loss on the Separatists, they do not trust that any investigation by those countries will be impartial or fair. Since the Separatists do not have the ability to investigate this loss, they are completely dependent on others, whom they do not trust. So they have, in effect, done nothing and allowed no one else to do anything.
One, follow ICAO Annex 13, with one difference: appoint a lead investigator from a neutral area, perhaps one from a BRICS country; certified, trained and assisted by ICAO staff. Allow the normal investigative parties – Malaysia, Boeing, Component Manufactures – organized as per the normal 16 investigative groups, recognized as standard. These processes also allow for international observers including Ukrainian (Recognized and Separatists), Russia, and all countries who lost citizens aboard the aircraft. These teams gather evidence and present findings, which then establish a conclusion, as opposed to reaching a conclusion without gathering all the facts. This is, in effect, the process that the Dutch Government has followed, with some success, as their teams were the first ones allowed access to the deceased.
Two, establish a mass fatality morgue, operated by the Disaster Victim Identification teams of the countries that have lost citizens. They must have unfettered access to the deceased and the site. Geographically, this should be in Ukraine. But could also be moved to another country such as the Netherlands. Agreements would have to include movement of deceased, across international borders and who will issue death certificates. As is standard, evidence may be collected from the deceased. Therefore, observers should be allowed. These would include Ukrainian (Recognized and Separatists), Russia, and all countries that lost citizens aboard the aircraft who may not have a DVI capability. This needs to happen now. Every delay means it will be that much harder to make a positive identification and, therefore, that much harder for the families. From here, as the deceased are identified, they could be repatriated – again, without hindrance from the political situation.
Three, establish a family assistance center or centers. Geographically this should be in Ukraine, but probably placed in the Netherlands, so that families can hear what is happening from all parties involved and be given regular updates on the progress of the identification and repatriation. A family assistance center also provides for a central location to collect information from the families that will be used to establish the identifications. Also, if the families were in one place, with a united voice, this would help focus the response. Naturally, there is outrage at the loss of the aircraft and more importantly at the lack of a professional response. But what must not be lost in this outrage is that there are 298 directly affected family groups, whose loss will forever be a part of their future. This loss is not something they read about or heard about, but very sadly, something they must live with. It is very personal for them.
Fourthly, allow Malaysia Airlines or its representatives access to the site to recover the personal effects of the passengers. This includes all items from the site that were not aircraft related. These include documents, baggage, and clothing. No item is too insignificant or small. These items often have little salable value, but enormous sentimental value. These will be the keepsakes that help define this event for the families. Their value cannot be overstated. The Separatist leadership should encourage and demand that any items that have been taken from the site by their soldiers or populace should at once be returned to a designated area. So that it can be returned to the families.