The Rhinebeck Rotary, at a regular meeting at the Beekman Arms on Monday, October 26TH, hosted Netherlands Chief Superintendent Michiel Marchand as he detailed efforts surrounding the recovery of and investigation into Malaysian Flight 17 which was downed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile over Eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Chief Superintendent Marchand has a long career in law enforcement and crisis management and was the Netherlands’ primary investigator at the crash site. Of the 298 passengers and crew aboard the flight, 193 were citizens of the Netherlands. To date, 296 persons have been identified out of the remains which were scattered throughout the immediate area.
Spending nearly 10 months on site, with intermittent trips to the Netherlands to report on his investigation, Chief Superintendent Marchand explained that Flight 17 was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when midway through the flight it suddenly dropped from the sky and crashed outside of the village of Hrabove, near the city of Torez in the Eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province. The crash site is approximately 40 miles from the Russian border and is in territory controlled by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. Initially, the separatists denied any involvement in the crash but subsequent investigations have substantiated that the plane’s cockpit was struck by a surface-to-air missile launched from separatist territory and, as a result, the plane crashed. No suggestion has been made that the firing of the missile was an intent to shoot down the civilian airliner but, rather, an error, the plane having been mistaken for a Ukrainian national military craft.
Chief Superintendent Marchand praised Eastern Ukrainian rescue workers who were the first responders to the site and who, after exhaustive and repetitive searches throughout the area, were able to gather the remains of many of the passengers and crew. However, not all remains were rescued and the government of the Netherlands dispatched its own recovery and investigative team as the repatriation of the bodies of all Dutch citizens was considered of highest importance. With the aid of an “air bridge” established by the Australian government, and with further support from the governments of Belgium and Malaysia, Superintendent Marchand’s team eventually identified the remains of 296 passengers and crew and those of all Dutch citizens were sent to the Netherlands where they were interred with great ceremony. Similarly, the remains of Malaysian citizens were sent to Malaysia where they, too, were interred. Of tremendous impediment was the political situation in the region, the unstable weather, and the fact that many remains needed to be recovered from the homes of villagers, which homes were completely or partially destroyed by falling wreckage.
The recovery efforts were completed in mid-2015 and Chief Superintendent Marchand says that grass has been sown over the crash site in an effort to establish a natural and living memorial in honor of the crash victims.
The Rhinebeck Rotary Club meets on Mondays at 12:15 pm throughout the year and is a humanitarian organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of others through various projects locally, nationally, and internationally. Regular club meetings typically feature speakers who cover a variety of human interest topics and for information on becoming a Rotary member, to a reserve a speaker’s spot, or to attend a meeting to hear a specific speaker, please contact Lou Trapani at 845-876-3088, ext. 14.