AMSTERDAM — Twenty-three victims aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 have been identified so far, the Dutch-led forensic team working on their remains said Friday.
Those identified include 18 Dutch, two Malaysians, a Canadian, a German and a Briton, Justice Ministry spokesman Jean Fransman said. All their families have been notified.
Flight 17 was shot down July 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard. Pro-Russian rebels have publicly denied downing the plane but one top rebel has told The Associated Press that the insurgents were involved.
The head of the Dutch forensic team working at a military compound in the Dutch city of Hilversum described the challenges his team is facing. Arie de Bruyn told reporters Friday that 228 coffins had been sent to the Netherlands but they "sometimes contained remains of more than one or two people."
De Bruyn said remains have been sorted into 703 groups.
"As you can see right away, that's many more than the victims who were on the plane," he said.
Around 176 bodies are more or less intact, leaving 527 sets of partial remains, he said.
The dental records and fingerprints of victims have been gathered and DNA profiles are being assembled in a process expected to take months.
"Whenever there's an identification, even if it's so difficult to tell families that it's only a part of a body, we'll still tell them," he vowed.
On Wednesday the Netherlands' prime minister called off further attempts to recover remains from the crash area, citing danger to the recovery workers from nearby fighting between the rebels and Ukrainian forces.