The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 black boxes are in the hands of pro-Russian separatists rebels in their eastern Ukraine stronghold, reports out of the region said Friday, with the rebels raising fear that the vital flight recorders, which could contain data essential to understanding exactly what happened to the downed Boeing 777, are already in the Kremlin.
An anonymous aide to regional pro-Russian rebel leader Igor Girkin said that of the 12 so-called black box recorders on the Malaysia Airlines plane, eight have been recovered, all by the separatists who control the area, NBC News reported.
But the NBC report also noted that most flights contain only two black box recorders, one to record in-flight cockpit conversation and sound, the second to record numerical flight data. So what the unnamed rebel official meant by “12” black boxes remains unclear.
The aide also said that Girkin had not yet decided whether to allow international investigators full access to the Malaysia Airlines crash site, which remained strewn with airplane debris and decomposing bodies of passengers on the destroyed commercial flight.
At the same time, another rebel leader, Aleksandr Borodai, denied that any black box flight recorders had been recovered at all.
“No black boxes have been found,” Borodai said, quoted in an Associated Press report. “We hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened.”
According to a Reuters report, the rebels said that they would hand the black box recorders over to Moscow for investigation, but a top Russian official said that his country did not want and would not accept custody of the recorders.
“Despite what Kiev is again saying, we do not plan to take these boxes. We do not plan to violate existing norms for such situations,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during a broadcast on Russia’s state-run television network.
In an on-air interview with CNN anchor Jake Tapper late Friday afternoon, Ukraine Ambassador to the United States Olexander Motsyk said that he believes the black boxes have not yet left Ukraine.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been attempting to carry out the investigation into the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, said that it was negotiating with the rebels for safe access to the crash site — and for the black boxes which the top OSCE official, Didier Burkhalter, said on Swiss TV were in the possession of the rebels.
Though no formal cease fire was declared in the fighting between the pro-Russia separatist forces and the Ukraine military, fighting appeared to have ceased Friday, in the region around where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane came down, at least for the moment.