U.N. aviation team unable to reach Ukraine crash site - source

Sun Jul 20, 2014 2:28pm EDT
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By Allison Lampert

MONTREAL, July 20 (Reuters) - Investigators from the U.N. aviation agency have arrived in Ukraine to help probe the crash of a Malaysian airliner but cannot reach the site because of safety concerns, a senior agency source said on Sunday.

The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is taking part in the effort to determine what happened to the airliner, which was shot down by a missile on Thursday over eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian rebels in the area and Ukrainian authorities blame each other for the disaster, in which 298 people died.

A senior ICAO official told Reuters that safety concerns meant the two investigators who were in Ukraine could not reach the crash site or examine the plane's flight recorders.

"Nobody has been allowed to have access to the site for that purpose," said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media.

"Until safe passage for them is assured we don't send people into that kind of situation."

The official said the four-person team would be free from the political influence of the U.N. agency's 191 member states.

It is unusual for ICAO to take a direct role in an investigation, and the team's assignment comes in response to a request from Ukraine's government.   Continued...