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Annual Report 2014–15

Feature Articles

Bringing home the victims of the flight MH17 disaster

An MH17 victim is carried from an Air Force C-17A Globemaster by Netherlands Defence Force personnel at Eindhoven Airfield in the Netherlands.

Operation Bring Them Home is the name given by the Australian Government to the whole-of-government mission to repatriate the bodies of the Australians killed in the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. Australian Government personnel were deployed to Ukraine and the Netherlands as part of the operation.

Flight MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014 when it was struck by what is understood to have been a Russian-made surface-to-air Buk missile. All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed in the incident, including 28 Australians, nine permanent residents of Australia, and one New Zealand citizen who was a long-term resident of Australia.

It was a fitting but sobering task for the Air Force to use its C-17A Globemaster aircraft to help Dutch authorities move the bodies and remains of the deceased from Kharkiv, Ukraine, to Eindhoven Airport in the Netherlands, where Dutch authorities conducted disaster victim identification.

Under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 10 search operations were conducted over a 32-square-kilometre area. Australian officials also took part in inspections of the crash site alongside numerous multinational military and civil emergency personnel and volunteers.

An Australian Defence Force Joint Task Force was established in the Netherlands to conduct the coordination, planning and response efforts with the Dutch. In addition, as part of the support arrangements to the operation, an ADF liaison officer was assigned to support the Netherlands Ministry of Defence in The Hague. This position provided a valuable link to ongoing support during subsequent search operations and bodes well for future liaison opportunities.

The RAAF C-17A Globemaster aircraft and crew were called on again to repatriate 22 victims during several sorties from Eindhoven to Melbourne. A small ADF ceremonial detachment joined Australian Federal Police personnel to provide a bearer party, drummer and piper to support a repatriation ceremony at Melbourne Airport.