Sad return  begins in glare of foreign sun

As each of the 40 coffins containing an MH17 victim was carried off a military plane in the Netherlands yesterday, Australian Governor General Peter Cosgrove thought: "Is this an Australian?".

Distraught Australian relatives and friends of those onboard the doomed flight would also have wondered if they were watching a loved one when the first bodies from the Ukraine arrived at the Dutch military base in Eindhoven about 4pm local time.

But reports out of the Ukraine that two of the bodies were those of Australian passengers were not verified, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

Instead, she and Sir Peter greeted each wooden casket as if it was an Australian onboard.

"We were thinking 'is this person in this casket, is this an Australian?'" Sir Peter said.

"So today they were all Australians and they were all Dutch and they were all the other nations.

"This is a long journey home."

About 1000 relatives and friends of those killed joined dignitaries, including Australian officials and the Dutch King and Queen, at a solemn ceremony to mark the arrival of the first victims from the flight shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine last week.

After the Australian C17 Hercules and a Dutch C130 touched down at the air base, a bugler played the Last Post and a minute's silence was observed.

Shielded from the media but seated near the dignitaries, grieving families watched the sad procession of coffins carried individually to waiting hearses, before the motorcade took them to a military base in Hilversum for identification.

Ms Bishop said similar ceremonies would be repeated in coming days so all of the bodies found at the crash site could be afforded the same dignity, respect and honour.

After the ceremony she went to meet Australian relatives to reassure them that the "whole country was behind them".

But there are fears dozens of bodies have not been recovered and the crash site remains unsecured.

Ms Bishop is flying to Kiev today with Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans to talk to the Ukrainian leadership how to safeguard the area and repatriate all 298 of those killed.

There are reports coming out of the Ukraine that Australian personnel may be sent to the area as part an international force.

Ms Bishop yesterday would say only that they were looking at the most effective way of securing the site.

"We must ensure that investigators and those who have the gruesome task of identifying body remains are able to do that in safety, unfettered, without any tampering from anyone," she said.

She said it was painstaking and difficult work but the Government would not rest until they accounted for everybody, and every Australian, aboard that flight.

Families of those who died will be told when the remains of their relatives have been identified and will then be helped to travel to the Netherlands to accompany the remains home.

Ms Bishop would not say how many relatives also wanted to visit the crash site in the Ukraine.

But she vowed that the Australian Government would do what it could to ensure relatives could get some sort of closure after such a "harrowing, appalling period in their lives".

"We are united in ensuring that the site is secured, that the bodies are found, the bodies are repatriated and the criminal investigation can get underway because we are determined to find who was responsible for this atrocious act and to hold them to account," she said.

"Our concern in all of this is to give the families their rightful embrace of those who were killed on that flight, we just want to bring them home."

The West Australian

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