KHARKIV - Bodies recovered from the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17 will be flown to the Netherlands Wednesday as the country mourns 193 citizens killed in what US officials said was a "mistake" by pro-Russian separatists.
Flags will fly at half mast on a day of national mourning in the Netherlands, the origin of the doomed flight to Kuala Lumpur that was allegedly blown out of the sky by a missile, drawing victims from 10 nations into a remote conflict raging in eastern Ukraine.
Two black boxes recovered from the flight have been handed to Dutch experts leading the investigation and will be sent to Britain for the data to be downloaded, the Netherlands government said.
The recovery of the crucial flight recorders and the victims' remains came after days of bitter wrangling with pro-Russian separatists controlling the crash site, who finally released them under intense international pressure.
Evidence gathered by US intelligence officials suggests separatists launched the SA-11 surface-to-air missile that blew up Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday, but it remains unclear "who pulled the trigger" and why.
"The most plausible explanation... was that it was a mistake", and that the missile was fired by "an ill-trained crew" using a system that requires some skill and training, said a senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The intelligence official cited previous incidents over the years in which both Russian and US forces have mistakenly shot down civilian airliners.
A Korean airliner was downed by a Soviet fighter jet in 1983, and US naval forces mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian passenger plane in 1988.
"We've all seen mistakes in the past," the official told reporters.
Russia, which US officials accuse of backing the separatists by providing them with military hardware and training, has faced a hail of international condemnation over the accident.
The crash has spurred an intense propaganda war, with both Ukraine and Russia trading blame, ratcheting up tensions after months of crisis sparked when Kiev turned its back on its former Soviet master in favour of stronger European ties.
Russia - which annexed Crimea after the ouster of ally Viktor Yanukovych by pro-EU protesters - denies supporting the rebels who have declared independence in parts of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that don't support the pivot westwards.
A senior security official in Kiev claimed that Russia had massed over 40,000 soldiers along its border over the past week.
US intelligence officials said they chose to brief reporters partly to counter what they called "misinformation" from Russia and its state-controlled media over the incident.
The US officials said Russian claims the Ukrainian government had shot down the plane were "not plausible".
Moscow denies it supplied the missile system allegedly used to attack MH17.