By Ian Swanson - 07/19/14 12:00 PM EDT
Fears that evidence will be lost from the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine grew on Saturday amid widespread charges that the crash site had been corrupted.
U.S. lawmakers fiercely criticized Russian separatist groups who are controlling access to the site, while reports from the ground suggested bodies and pieces of the aircraft had been taken from the site.
“All you need to know about the character of Ukrainian rebels is the disgraceful way they are handling crash site, bodies,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.).
President Obama and other international leaders have called for investigators to be given unfettered access to the crash site, but a team from the Geneva-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Friday was only given 75 minutes access to the site.
“They did not have the kind of access that they expected,” said Thomas Greminger, the council chairman. “They did not have the freedom of movement that they need to do their job. The crash site is not sealed off.”
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it appears groups in Eastern Ukraine are working to cover up the crash site to make it more difficult to pin blame on Russian separatists for shooting down the plane.
“I think what’s happened is a rather poorly trained separatist group here probably inadvertently have shot down an airliner and are now trying to cover this up, and that’s the part you see on the ground today,” Royce said in an interview on CNN's "Smerconish."
The Obama administration has not directly blamed Russian separatists for the incident, but has said the plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile that came from territory held by Russian militants.
The Malaysia Airlines plane was carrying 298 people, including passengers and crew members.
Militant groups have denied responsibility for the downed plane.
In a series of phone calls with international leaders on Friday, Obama urged Russia and separatist groups working in Ukraine to grant access to the site to investigators.
According to a White House reading of Obama’s call with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, the two “agreed that all countries should do their utmost to ensure the Russian-supported separatists grant secure access to the site of the incident.”
On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure international investigators get access to the site.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Merkel and Putin were calling for an international commission to get access to the site.
Several reporters on the scene Saturday described chaos at the crash site, where they said local townspeople were moving bodies. Reporters from MSNBC and CNN said it was unlike any other plane crash site they had seen.
Wreckage and bodies are scattered over a wide-ranging site near Ukraine’s border with Russia.
Malaysia’s government has expressed concern that the site has not been secured.
"The integrity of the site has been compromised, and there are indications that vital evidence hasn't been preserved in place,” said Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, according to the Wall Street Journal.