Two planes carrying remains of dozens of victims from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 landed in Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands on Wednesday as a nation of 16 million people observed a day of mourning for 193 countrymen lost in last week's tragedy.
The bodies were met by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of the victims' relatives. A solitary bugler played the Dutch equivalent of Taps and a moment of silence took place, then a long line of hearses rolled up to the planes.
There were no speeches.
A Dutch Hercules C-130 landed first, carrying 16 coffins, Dutch spokesman Lodewijk Hekking said. An Australian C-17 followed close behind with 24 more. The coffins were marched out one at a time and loaded into the hearses.
Thousands of people jammed roadsides and overpasses, and traffic stopped along some highways as the Dutch population paid tribute to the solemn procession that rolled slowly to the city of Hilversum, where forensic experts were waiting to identify the remains.
"It is a very important moment" for the grieving nation, Hilversum Mayor Pieter Broertjes told CNN.
Before the two military transports departed for the Netherlands, locals near the site of the July 17 crash in eastern Ukraine held a ceremony paying tribute to the 298 victims. Meanwhile, international monitors remained critical that more wasn't being done to find all the remains at the crash site in Ukraine.
The pro-Russian separatists controlling the crash area have said they had recovered 282 bodies and that more than 200 bodies were shipped Tuesday to the Ukraine city of Kharkiv on refrigerated train cars. But officials with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said they were unable to verify that count.
The bodies were flown to Eindhoven from an airport in Kharkiv.
Dutch officials have said the separatists severely mishandled the crash site, accusing them of allowing residents to loot personal belongings of the victims while stopping international investigators from properly inspecting the dispersed wreckage in the area.
"If I have to wait five months for identification, I can do it," said Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died in the crash. "Waiting while the bodies were in the field and in the train was a nightmare."
The Malaysian jet was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday when it was reportedly hit by a rocket near Donetsk, a pro-Russian separatists stronghold, around 30 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.
Six days after the crash, no attempt was being made to protect or cordon off the site, preserve evidence or protect the remains and personal effects of the victims. On Wednesday, a half-dozen people milled about the crash area, wandering around but not appearing to be searching for bodies or clues to the crash.
"We observed still the existence of smaller body parts on this site," said OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw. "There is still evidence of missing human remains in at least in two of the locations."
On Tuesday the European Union imposed limited sanctions consisting of assets freezes and visa bans of Russian individuals, but fell short of targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy such as finance or energy.
Also Tuesday, the separatist leader Alexander Borodai handed over the two rescued black boxes to Malaysian Airlines experts as parties involved called for an international investigation.
"Following the agreement Prime Minister Najib Razak brokered with rebel leaders, Malaysia has taken custody of Flight MH17's black boxes," said Malaysia Minister of Transport Liow Tiong Lai in a statement.
Liow also said in the statement that the international investigation team led by the Netherlands has decided to pass the black boxes to the United Kingdom's Air Accidents Investigation Branch for forensic analysis.
There was confusion as well about how many of the 282 corpses that the rebels said they have found were on the train that arrived in Kharkiv, a government-controlled city, on Tuesday.
Jan Tuinder, the Dutch official in charge of the international team dealing with the dead, said that at least 200 bodies were aboard the train and that more remains could be found once the body bags are examined fully.
The Dutch Safety Board announced that it will lead an international team of 24 investigators, and said unhindered access to the crash site is critical.
"At the moment, there are no guarantees for the investigators' safety" at the scene, the board said, adding that it "and other parties" are working to get access to the site and to secure it.
Rebel leader Pavel Gubarev wrote on his Facebook page that his men had retreated Wednesday from the villages of Chervona Zorya and Kozhevnya, which are on the Russian border about 30 miles from the scene of the crash. Gubarev said 30 rebels had been injured.
Wreckage of the Boeing 777 fell on territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists who have been battling the Kiev government since April. U.S. officials say the plane was probably shot down by a missile, most likely by accident.
Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led crash, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.
The officials, who briefed reporters Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used, said the plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile. The officials cited intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.
The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.
Warwick and Dumalaon reported from Hrabove, Ukraine; Bacon from McLean, Va. Contributing: Associated Press