GILZE-RIJEN AIR BASE, Netherlands — The relatives of those killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed over eastern Ukraine visited a Dutch air base Tuesday to view the wreckage of the plane.
For almost all of them, it was the first chance to see the twisted and charred wreckage that lay for months in the fields of war-torn eastern Ukraine after the plane plunged to the ground July 17, most likely after being hit by a missile. All 298 passengers and crew on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed.
The wreckage was brought back to the Netherlands, where civil and criminal investigations are underway to establish the cause of the disaster and attempt to prosecute those responsible.
Family members who viewed the wreckage at the Gilze-Rijen military air base in the southern Netherlands didn't speak to the media Tuesday. More family members were to visit later this week, some 500 people in all.
The wreckage, spread across three hangars, included wings, wheels, parts of the fuselage and overhead luggage bins. Some of it was scorched black by fire, while some pieces of the plane's thin metal body were scratched, twisted and torn.
Not visible to the media were parts of the plane that investigators said last year appeared "to indicate that the aircraft was penetrated by a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft."
Experts will soon begin piecing together parts of the plane to help investigators assess the damage and definitively establish the cause, said Sara Vernooij, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the civilian probe. She said the board's final report is expected "after the summer."
National Prosecutor's Office spokesman Wim de Bruin said the criminal investigation is "of an unprecedented scale" and will take at least this year to complete.
Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend, Daisy Oehlers, were on board the stricken flight, will visit the wreckage Saturday.
"It brings it very close to home," she said. "It is where they spent their last hours."
For some relatives, viewing the wreckage is just too hard. Yasmine Calehr, the grandmother of two brothers who died on MH17, lives in the United States and decided not to go see the wreckage.
"I ... could not bear the sight of it," she said in an email to The Associated Press.