Dutch officials have commissioned the transport of the wreckage back to the Netherlands
They say the recovery operation is expected to take several days
The passenger jet carrying 298 people was shot down in July over eastern Ukraine
Investigators were prevented from accessing the site by the unstable situation
Delayed for months by chaos and conflict, the recovery of wreckage from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has finally begun in war-torn eastern Ukraine, Dutch officials said Sunday.
The passenger jet carrying 298 people was shot down in July over a rural area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
The vast crash site was left unsecured, and international investigators struggled to reach the area amid fighting between the rebels and Ukrainian government forces.
Everyone aboard the flight was killed. Around two-thirds of the victims were from the Netherlands.
Dutch officials have commissioned the recovery and transport of the wreckage back to the Netherlands as part of the investigation into the cause of the crash.
The recovery operation is expected to take several days, the Dutch Safety Board said in a statement Sunday, and security and other factors will be assessed daily.
The wreckage will be transported to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv before being sent to the Netherlands.
The investigators intend to reconstruct a section of the aircraft, the safety board said.
Several western nations and the Ukrainian government have accused the pro-Russian separatists operating in the region of shooting down the plane with a missile. Rebel leaders and the Russian government have disputed the claims.
In its preliminary report in September on the disaster, the Dutch agency said Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of “high-energy objects” from outside.
That report set out a list of areas that still need further investigation, including forensic examination of wreckage and any foreign objects found. It noted at the time that Dutch investigators still hadn’t been able to visit the site amid the unstable situation in eastern Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the crash, the rebels were widely accused of looting the site, tampering with the evidence and stopping investigators from combing through the wreckage.
After an initial delay, most of the bodies of the victims have been removed from the area and transported out of Ukraine.
But as recently as September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was likely that there were still remains strewn across the fields. Australia had 38 of its citizens and residents on the plane.
CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Christabelle Fombu contributed to this report.