Terrorism: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. Contact with the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, was lost when it was about 50 km (31 mi) from the Ukraine–Russia border and wreckage of the aircraft fell near Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 40 km (25 mi) from the border. The shoot-down occurred in the War in Donbass, during the Battle of Shakhtarsk, in an area controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic.The crash was Malaysia Airlines’ second aircraft loss during 2014 after the disappearance of Flight 370 on 8 March.

In October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) concluded that the airliner was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile (NATO reporting name: SA-11 Gadfly) launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. In September 2016, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) confirmed the missile type which had downed the aircraft and said that the Buk missile system had been transported from Russia on the day of the crash, fired from a field in a rebel-controlled area and returned to Russia after it was used to shoot down MH17. The JIT had established the identities of approximately 100 people, witnesses or suspects, who were linked to the transporting of the Buk, but said that their evidence must stand before a court.

The DSB and JIT findings confirmed earlier claims by American and German intelligence sources as to the missile type and launch area. In 2014, the US intelligence had also said that Russia had supplied the Buk missile to pro-Russian insurgents, and that the insurgents most plausibly shot down MH17 in error, misidentifying it as a military aircraft. Also, in 2014, German intelligence sources reported that they believed insurgents had stolen the missile from the Ukrainian military.

The Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk laid the blame on professional soldiers that he said came from Russia, stating that it wasn’t drunken militants with Ukrainian passports [who shot down the Malaysian plane], it was done by Russian professionals and coordinated from Russia, adding that the whole world has learned about the Russian lies and Russian propaganda.  As of September 2016, the Russian government continues to deny responsibility for the crash. Several theories about the crash have since appeared in Russian media, including that the aircraft was being followed by a Ukrainian military jet. The Russian Government holds Ukraine responsible since the crash had happened in the Ukrainian flight information region.

The Ukrainian Air Force was used extensively in operations against the rebels, and several UAF aircraft had been shot down over the rebel-controlled territory, both before and after the MH17 incident. Immediately after the crash, a post appeared on the VKontaktesocial media profile attributed to Igor Girkin, leader of the Donbass separatist militia, claiming responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian An-26 military transporter near Torez. This post was removed later the same day, and the separatists then denied shooting down any aircraft. In late July 2014, communications intercepts were made public in which, it is claimed, separatists are heard discussing an aircraft that they had downed. A video from the crash site, recorded by the rebels and obtained by the News Corp Australia, shows the first rebel soldiers to arrive at the crash site. At first they assumed that the downed aircraft was a Ukrainian military jet, and were dismayed when they started to realize that it was a civilian airliner.

Aircraft

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9M-MRD

 

Shootdown

Date

17 July 2014

Summary

Airliner shootdown, under criminal investigation

Site

Near Hrabove, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
 Coordinates: N48°8′17″; E38°38′20″

Aircraft

Aircraft type

Boeing 777-200ER

Operator

Malaysia Airlines

Registration

9M-MRD
Flight origin

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Destination

Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Passengers

283

Crew

15
Fatalities

298

Survivors

0

 

 

People on board by nationality

Nation

Number

 Australia

27

 Belgium

4

 Canada

1

 Germany

4

 Indonesia

12

 Malaysia

43

 Netherlands

193

 New Zealand

1

 Philippines

3

 United Kingdom

10

Total

298

Passengers and crew

 

Flight 17 was operated with a Boeing 777-2H6ER, serial number 28411, registration 9M-MRD. The 84th Boeing 777 produced, it first flew on 17 July 1997, exactly 17 years before the incident, and was delivered new to Malaysia Airlines on 29 July 1997. Powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines and carrying 280 seats (33 business and 247 economy), the aircraft had recorded more than 76,300 hours in 11,430 cycles before the crash. The aircraft was in an airworthy condition at departure.

The Boeing 777, which entered commercial service on 7 June 1995, has one of the best safety records in commercial aircraft. In June 2014 there were about 1,212 aircraft in service, with 340 more on order.

The incident is the deadliest airliner shootdown incident to date. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. By 19 July, the airline had determined the nationalities of all 298 passengers and crew.

The crew were all Malaysian, while over two-thirds (68%) of the passengers were Dutch. Most of the other passengers were Malaysians and Australians, with the few more citizens from 7 other countries.

Among the passengers were delegates en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, including Joep Lange, a former president of the International AIDS Society, which organized the conference. Many initial reports had erroneously indicated that around 100 delegates to the conference were aboard, but this was later revised to six. Also on board were Dutch Senator Willem Witteveen, Australian author Liam Davison, and Malaysian actress Shuba Jay.

At least twenty family groups were on board the aircraft, and eighty of the passengers were under the age of 18.

The flight had two captains, Wan Amran Wan Hussin from Kuala Kangsar and Eugene Choo Jin Leong from Seremban, and two copilots, Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi and Muhd Firdaus Abdul Rahim.

Background

Some airlines started to avoid eastern Ukrainian airspace in early March 2014 due to the Crimean crisis. In April, the International Civil Aviation Organization warned governments that there was a risk to commercial passenger flights over south-eastern Ukraine. The American Federal Aviation Administration issued restrictions on flights over Crimea, to the south of MH17’s route, and advised airlines flying over some other parts of Ukraine to “exercise extreme caution”. This warning did not include the MH17 crash region. 37 airlines continued overflying eastern Ukraine and about 900 flights crossed the Donetsk region in the seven days before the Boeing 777 was shot down, with Aeroflot, Singapore Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines being the most active carriers.

On 14 June 2014, a Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft was shot down on approach to Luhansk International Airport; all 49 people on board died. On 29 June, Russian news agencies reported that insurgents had obtained a Buk missile system after having taken control of a Ukrainian air defence base (possibly the former location of the 156th Anti-Aircraft Rocket Regiment. On the same day, the Donetsk People’s Republic claimed possession of such a system in a since-deleted tweet.

On 14 July 2014, a Ukrainian Air Force An-26 transport plane flying at 6,500 m (21,300 ft) was shot down. Militia reportedly claimed via social media that a Buk missile launcher had been used to bring down the aircraft. American officials later said evidence suggested the aircraft had been shot down from Russian territory. On 16 July, a Sukhoi Su-25 close air support aircraft was also shot down. The Ukrainian government said the Russian military had shot down the aircraft with an air-to-air missile fired by a MiG-29 jet in Russia; a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry rejected that report as “absurd”. According to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the Ukrainian government also warned the government of Netherlands and other European countries about dangers in flying over the East Ukraine three days prior to the tragedy due to the downing of the An-26 transport aircraft on 14 July.

On 15 July 2014, following his visit to Kiev, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski warned about the dangers posed by the continued Russian military support for pro-Russian separatists, especially ground-to-air missiles. On 17 July, an Associated Press journalist saw a Buk launcher in Snizhne, a town in Donetsk Oblast, 16 kilometres (10 mi) southeast of the crash site. The reporter also saw seven separatist tanks near the town. Associated Press journalists reported that the Buk M-1 was operated by a man “with unfamiliar fatigues and a distinctive Russian accent” escorted by two civilian vehicles. The battle around Saur Mogila has been suggested as the possible context within which the missile that brought down MH17 was fired, as separatists deployed increasingly sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry in this battle, and had brought down several Ukrainian jets in July. A Ukrainian An-26 was scheduled to deliver paratroopers to the battle arena on 17 July and, according to Russian expert Vadim Lukashevich, the separatists might have been waiting just for them. According to the final report of the Dutch Safety Board, no An-26 was downed in Eastern Ukraine that day.

On 5 June 2014, the airspace above Donetsk Oblast was closed by Ukraine below 26,000 feet (7,900 m) and on 14 July that below 32,000 feet (9,800 m) was closed.  A few hours before the tragedy the Russian ATC issued NOTAM UUUUV6158/14 which closed the Russian airspace in the adjacent area below 53,000 feet (16,000 m) (FL530). The reason given was “armed conflict in Ukraine”, but such a high altitude was not justified by previous incidents and was comparable with the 18,000 m (59,055 ft) range of the Buk missile. The Dutch Safety Board asked Russian ATC for further explanation but did not receive any clarity on the meaning of the restriction to FL530 As with other countries, Ukraine receives overflight fees for commercial aircraft that fly through their borders and this may have contributed to the continued availability of civilian flight paths through the conflict zone.

Crash

2

Route of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 

 

3

Routes of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Singapore Airlines Flight 351, including airspace restrictions 

On Thursday, 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 departed from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Gate G3 at 1013 UTC and took-off at 1031 UTC. It was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 2210 UTC, 17 July.

According to the original flight plan, MH17 was to fly over Ukraine at flight level 330 (33,000 feet or 10,060 metres) and then change to FL 350 around the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk. When it reached the area as planned at 1253 UTC, Dnipropetrovsk Air Control (Dnipro Control) asked MH17 if they could climb to FL 350 as planned, and also to avoid a potential separation conflict with another flight, Singapore Airlines Flight 351, also at FL 330. The crew asked to remain at FL 330 and the air control approved this request, moving the other flight to FL 350. At 13:00 UTC, the crew asked for a deviation of 20 nautical miles (37 km) to the left (north) of course, on airway L980, due to weather conditions. This request was also approved by Dnipro Control. The crew then asked if they could climb to FL 340, which was rejected as this flight level was not available, so MH17 remained at FL 330. At 1319 UTC, Dnipro Control noticed that the flight was 3.6 nautical miles (6.7 km) north of the centreline of approved track and instructed MH17 to return to the track. At 1319 UTC, Dnipro Control contacted Russian air control in Rostov-on-Don (RND) by telephone and requested clearance to transfer the flight to Russian air control. After obtaining the permission, Dnipro Control attempted to hand off the aircraft to Rostov-on-Don at 16:20 local time (13:20 UTC), but the aircraft did not respond. When MH17 did not respond to several calls, Dnipro Control contacted RND again to check if they could see the Boeing on their radar. RND confirmed that the plane had disappeared.

The Dutch Safety Board reported a last flight data recording at(13:20 UTC, located west of the urban-type settlement Rozsypne, heading 115° at 494 knots (915 km/h; 568 mph).

At exactly 13:20:03 UTC a Buk surface-to-air missile, which had been launched from an area east from the aircraft, detonated outside the aircraft just above the cockpit to the left. An explosive decompression occurred, resulting in both the cockpit and tail sections tearing away from the middle portion of the fuselage. All three sections disintegrated as they fell rapidly towards the ground.

The majority of debris landed near Hrabove, a village in Torez located in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. The debris spread over a 50 square kilometres (19 sq. mi) area to the southwest of Hrabove. The fireball on impact is believed to have been captured on video. Photographs from the site of the crash show scattered pieces of broken fuselage and engine parts, bodies, and passports. Some of the wreckage fell close to houses. Dozens of bodies fell into crop fields, and some fell into houses.

Three other commercial aircraft were in the same area when the Malaysian plane crashed, including a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Copenhagen to Singapore, and Air India Flight 113, a Boeing 787 en route from Delhi to Birmingham. The closest aircraft was 33 kilometres (21 mi) away.

 Recovery of bodies

A Ukraine Foreign Ministry representative said that the bodies found at the crash site would be taken to Kharkiv for identification, 270 kilometres (170 mi) to the north. By the day after the crash, 181 of the 298 bodies had been found. Some were observed being placed in body bags and loaded onto lorries.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte complained about the lack of respect shown to the personal belongings of the dead which were reportedly being looted. He initially announced his disgust about the handling of the bodies that were reportedly being dragged around and thrown, but later stated they had been handled with more care than originally thought.  On 20 July, Ukrainian emergency workers, observed by armed separatists, began loading the remains of the passengers of MH17 into refrigerated railway wagons for transport and identification.

On 21 July, pro-Russian rebels allowed Dutch investigators to examine the bodies. By this time, according to Ukrainian officials 272 bodies had been recovered. Remains left Torez on a train on the evening of 21 July, en route to Kharkiv to be flown to the Netherlands for identification. On the same day, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Malaysian government had reached a tentative agreement to retrieve the remains of the Malaysians who died in the crash, following any necessary forensic work.

6

Convoy of 40 hearses heading to Hilversum, while other traffic stopped

It was reported on 21 July that with 282 bodies and 87 body fragments found, there were still 16 bodies missing. An agreement had been reached that the Netherlands would co-ordinate the identification effort. A train carrying the bodies arrived at the Malyshev Factory, Kharkiv on 22 July. Dutch authorities stated that they found 200 bodies on the train when it arrived at Kharkhiv, leaving almost 100 unaccounted for. In late July, the UK Metropolitan Police sent specialist officers to Ukraine to assist with the recovery, identification and repatriation of bodies.

The first remains were flown to Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 23 July, moved there with Dutch air force C-130 and Australian C-17transport aircraft, which landed at Eindhoven Airport just before 16:00 local time. The day after, another 74 bodies arrived. The examination and identification of the bodies was conducted at the Netherlands Army medical regiment training facility in Hilversum and was coordinated by a Dutch forensic team.

On 1 August it was announced that a search and recovery mission, including about 80 forensic police specialists from the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia, and led by Colonel Cornelis Kuijs of the Royal Marechaussee, would use drones, sniffer dogs, divers and satellite mapping to search for missing body parts at the crash site. Australian officials had believed that as many as 80 bodies were still at the site, but after some days of searching the international team had found remains of only a few victims and concluded that the recovery effort undertaken by local authorities immediately after the crash was more thorough than initially thought.

On 6 August the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the recovery operation would be temporarily halted due to an upsurge in fighting around the crash site threatening the safety of crash investigators and recovery specialists, and that all international investigators and humanitarian forces conducting searches would leave the country leaving behind a small communications and liaison team.

On 22 August the bodies of 20 Malaysians (of 43 killed in the incident) arrived in Malaysia. The government announced a National Mourning Day, with a ceremony broadcast live on radio and television.

On 9 October a spokesman for the Dutch national prosecutor’s office stated that one victim had been found with an oxygen mask around his neck; a forensic investigation of the mask for fingerprints, saliva and DNA did not produce any results and it is therefore not known how or when that mask got around the neck of the victim.

By 5 December 2014, the Dutch-led forensic team had identified the bodies of 292 out of 298 victims of the crash. In February and April 2015 new remains were found on the site, after which only 2 victims, both Dutch citizens, had not been identified.

Aftermath

About 90 minutes after the incident, Ukraine closed all routes in Eastern Ukrainian airspace, at all altitudes. The incident dramatically heightened fears about airliner shootdowns, leading to some airlines announcing they would avoid overflying conflict zones.

Shortly after the crash, it was announced that Malaysia Airlines would retire flight number MH17 and change the Amsterdam–Kuala Lumpur route to flight number MH19 beginning on 25 July 2014, with the outbound flight unchanged. In association with the retirement of the Boeing 777 aircraft type from Malaysia Airlines’ fleet, Malaysia Airlines terminated service to Amsterdam, opting to codeshare with KLM on the KUL-AMS route for service beyond 25 January 2016. On 18 July 2014, shares in Malaysia Airlines dropped by nearly 16%.

On 23 July 2014, two Ukrainian military jets were hit by missiles at the altitude of 17,000 feet (5,200 m) close to the area of the MH17 crash. According to the Ukrainian Security Council, preliminary information indicated that the missiles came from Russia.

In July 2015, Malaysia proposed that the United Nations Security Council set up an international tribunal to prosecute those deemed responsible for the downing of the plane. The Malaysian resolution gained a majority on the Security Council but was vetoed by Russia.

On 9 June 2016, a Russian businessman claimed that the shooting down of the plane put an end to hopes of a Russian nation in Ukraine and prolonged the War in Donbass.

Investigation

Two parallel investigations were led by the Dutch, one into the technical cause of the crash, and a separate criminal inquiry. The technical report was released on 13 October 2015, while the criminal investigation reported some of their findings in September 2016. According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the country in which an aviation incident occurs is responsible for the investigation, but that country may delegate the investigation to another state, Ukraine has delegated the leadership of both investigations to the Netherlands.

On-site investigation

In the hours following the crash, a meeting was convened of the Trilateral Contact Group. After they had held a video conference with representatives of insurgents affiliated with the Donetsk People’s Republic (who controlled the area where the aircraft crashed), the rebels promised to “provide safe access and security guarantees” to “the national investigation commission” by co-operating with Ukrainian authorities and OSCE monitors. During the first two days of investigation, the militants prevented the OSCE and the workers of Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry from freely working at the crash site. Andrei Purgin, a leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, declared later that we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene as soon as Kiev concludes a ceasefire agreement.

 Dutch and Australian police at the crash site on 3 August 2014

By 18 July 2014, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder had been recovered by separatists, and three days later were handed over to Malaysian officials in Donetsk. The CVR was damaged but there was no evidence that data had been tampered with.

The National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine, which led off- and on-site investigation during the first days after the crash, had by August 2014 delegated the investigation to the DSB because of the large number of Dutch passengers and the flight having originated in Amsterdam.

On 22 July 2014, a Malaysian team of 133 officials, search and recovery personnel, and forensics, technical and medical experts arrived in Ukraine. Also Australia sent a 45-member panel headed by former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who had earlier supervised the MH 370 probe. Approximately 200 special forces soldiers from Australia were also deployed to provide support for the JIT investigators. The United Kingdom sent six investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and the UK Foreign Office sent extra consular staff to Ukraine. It took until late July before the full international team could start working at the crash site,] under the leadership of the Dutch Ministry of Defence.

On 30 July 2014, a Ukrainian representative said that pro-Russian rebels had mined approaches to the crash site and moved heavy artillery.

On 6 August 2014, the experts left the crash site due to concerns about their safety. In mid-September they unsuccessfully attempted to regain access to the site. On 13 October 2014, a Dutch-Ukrainian team resumed recovery of victims’ personal belongings. In mid-November 2014, work was undertaken to remove part of the wreckage from the crash site. Earlier efforts by the recovery team to salvage the MH17 wreckage had been frustrated by disagreements with the local rebels. The recovery operation took one week to complete. The debris was transported to the Netherlands where investigators reconstructed parts of the plane.

In August 2015, possible Buk missile launcher parts were found at the crash site by the Dutch led Joint Investigation Team.

Cause of crash

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A mobile Buk surface-to-air missile launcher, similar to that concluded to have been used in the incident

 Soon after the crash both American and Ukrainian officials said that a 9M38 series surface-to-air missile strike was the most likely cause, and if so, then the missile was fired from a mobile Soviet-designed Buk missile system (NATO reporting name: SA-11 “Gadfly”) as this was the only surface-to-air missile system in the region capable of reaching the altitude of commercial air traffic. According to defence analyst Reed Foster (from Jane’s Information Group), the contour of the aluminum and the blistering of the paint around many of the holes on the aircraft fragments indicate that small, high-velocity fragments entered the aircraft externally, a damage pattern indicative of an SA-11. Ballistics specialist Stephan Fruhling of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre concurred with this, explaining that since it struck the cockpit rather than an engine it was probably a radar guided, rather than heat seeking, missile equipped with a proximity fused warhead such as a SA-11.

Shortly after the crash, Igor Girkin, leader of the Donbass separatists, was reported to have posted on social media network VKontakte, taking credit for downing a Ukrainian An-26. This news was repeated by channels in Russia, with Life News reporting “a new victory of Donetsk self-defence who shot down yet another Ukrainian airplane”. The separatists later denied involvement, saying they did not have the equipment or training to hit a target at that altitude. Russian media also reported that Alexander Borodai called one of the Moscow media managers 40 minutes after the crash, saying that likely we shot down a civilian airliner..

Witnesses in Torez reported sightings on the day of the incident of what appeared to be a Buk missile launcher,and AP journalists reported sightings of a Buk system in separatist controlled Snizhne. The witness reports backed up photographs and videos which had been posted online, of the Buk launcher in rebel-held territory.

On 19 July 2014, Vitaly Nayda, the chief of the Counter Intelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), told a news conference, We have compelling evidence that this terrorist act was committed with the help of the Russian Federation. We know clearly that the crew of this system were Russian citizens. He cited what he said were recorded conversations in which separatists expressed satisfaction to Russian intelligence agents that they brought down an aircraft. While one of the involved persons acknowledged that these conversations took place, the separatists denied that they were related to the crash of MH17 and blamed the Ukrainian government for shooting it down. According to Nayda, a Buk launcher used in the shoot down was moved back into Russia the night after the attack. The SBU released another recording, which they said was of pro-Russian-separatist leader Igor Bezler being told of an approaching aircraft two minutes before MH17 was shot down. Bezler said the recording was real, but referred to a different incident. The head of the SBU, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, later concluded that rebels intended to shoot down a Russian airliner in a false flag operation to give Russia a pretext to invade Ukraine, but shot down MH17 by mistake.

Journalists from the Associated Press in Snizhne, Ukraine reported seeing a Buk M-1 enter the town operated by a man with unfamiliar fatigues and a distinctive Russian accent escorted by two civilian vehicles, which then moved off in the direction where the shoot down later occurred. According to Ukrainian counter terrorism chief, Vitaly Nayda, after downing the plane under separatist direction, the launcher’s Russian crew quickly moved it back across the border into Russia.

On 22 July 2014, a rebel fighter revealed to an Italian reporter that fellow separatists had told his unit the aircraft had been shot down under the assumption that it was Ukrainian. This information was verified and confirmed on the same day by a German newspaper. Unnamed American intelligence officials stated that sensors that traced the path of the missile, shrapnel patterns in the wreckage, voice print analysis of separatists’ conversations in which they claimed credit for the strike, and photos and other data from social media sites all indicated that Russian-backed separatists had fired the missile.

American officials said that satellite data from infrared sensors detected the explosion of Flight MH17. American intelligence agencies said that analysis of the launch plume and trajectory suggested the missile was fired from an area near Torez and Snizhne. The British Daily Telegraph said: “The Telegraph’s own inquiries suggest the missile, a SA-11 from a Buk mobile rocket launcher, was possibly fired from a cornfield about 19 kilometres (12 mi) to the south of the epicentre of the crash site.” Other sources suggest the missile was launched from the separatist-controlled town of Chernukhino. Several other media outlets including The Guardian, The Washington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the aeroplane is believed to have been downed by a rebel-fired missile.

An unnamed American intelligence official stated that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 may have been shot down in error by pro-Russian separatists, citing evidence that separatists launched a SA-11 surface-to-air missile that blew up the Malaysian airliner. They said it was possible the rebel was a former member of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who had defected to the pro-Russian separatists. The official dismissed Russian allegations that MH17 took evasive action and said the claim that the Ukrainian government had shot down MH17 was not realistic, as Kiev had no such missile systems in that area, which was rebel-controlled. American intelligence officials also said that Russia was attempting to disguise the flow of weaponry it was delivering to the rebels by sending older weapons that matched Ukraine’s inventory. The British Foreign Office stated that it was highly likely that the missile was fired from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has maintained that American claims of separatist responsibility were unfounded and said that the American intelligence agencies have not released any of the data on which they based their conclusions. According to the Russian military, in what the New York Magazine called Russia’s Conspiracy Theory, MH17 was shot down by the Ukrainians, using either a surface-to-air missile or a fighter plane.

On 21 July 2014, the Russian Ministry of Defence held a press conference and said that while the Boeing 777 was crashing, a Ukrainian Su-25 ground-attack aircraft approached to within 3 to 5 kilometres (1.9 to 3.1 mi) of the Malaysian airliner. The MoD also claimed that satellite photographs showed that the Ukrainian army moved a Buk SAM battery to the area close to the territory controlled by the rebels on the morning of 17 July, hours before the crash. They said the installation was then moved away again by 18 July. Promoted by Russian media, the idea that a Su-25 could have downed the Boeing 777 with an air-to-air missile was dismissed by chief designer of the Su-25, Vladimir Babak. In 2015 Bellingcat purchased satellite photos from the same area and time as used by the MoD and demonstrated that they had used older photos (May and June 2014) in their presentation that were edited to make a Ukrainian Buk launcher appear as if it was removed after the attack. In the report published by the Dutch Safety Board, an air-to-air missile strike was ruled out.

In an interview with Reuters on 23 July 2014, Alexander Khodakovsky, the commander of the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion, acknowledged that the separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the type the Americans had said was used to shoot down the aircraft, and said that it could have been sent back to Russia to remove proof of its presence; he later retracted his comments, saying that he had been misquoted and stating that rebels never had a Buk. In November 2014 he repeated that the separatists had a Buk launcher at the time, but stated that the vehicle, under control of fighters from Luhansk, had still been on its way to Donetsk when MH17 crashed. It was then withdrawn to avoid being blamed.

On 28 July 2014, Ukrainian security official Andriy Lysenko announced, at a press conference, that black box recorder analysis had revealed that the aircraft had been brought down by shrapnel that caused “massive explosive decompression. Dutch officials were reported to be “stunned by what they saw as a premature announcement and said that they had not provided this information.

On 8 September 2014, the BBC released new material by John Sweeney who cited three civilian witnesses from Donbass who saw the Buk launcher in the rebel-controlled territory on the day when MH17 crashed. Two witnesses said the crew of the launcher and a military vehicle escorting it did not have local accents and spoke with Muscovite accents. On the same day Ignat Ostanin, a Russian journalist, published an analysis of photos and films of Buk units moving in Russia and Ukraine in the days before and after the MH17 crash. According to Ostanin, the markings on the specific launcher suspected of being used to shoot MH17, together with the number plates of the large goods vehicle that carried the launcher, suggested that it belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade of the Air Defence Forces of the Russian Ground Forces.

On 8 October 2014 the president of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) gave a presentation about MH17 to a German parliamentary committee overseeing intelligence activities. According to Der Spiegel, the report contained a detailed analysis which concluded that pro-Russian separatists had used a captured Ukrainian Buk system to shoot down Flight MH17. The report also noted that Russian claims the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to the passenger jet were false and that Ukraine had published manipulated photographs. The Attorney General of Germany opened an investigation against unknown persons due to a suspected war crime.

Between November 2014 and May 2016, UK-based investigative collective Bellingcat made a series of conclusions, based on their examination of photos in social media and other open-source information. Bellingcat said that the launcher used to shoot down the aircraft was a Buk 332 of the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade based in Kursk, Russia, which had been transported from Donetsk to Snizhne and was controlled by separatists in Ukraine on the day of the attack.

On 22 December 2014 the Dutch news service RTL Nieuws published a statement of an unnamed local resident who witnessed the shooting down of MH17, indicating that the plane was shot down by a missile from rebel territory. He took photographs of what appeared to be the vapour trail of a ground-launched missile which he passed to the SBU. On 24 December Russia’s state-operated domestic news agency RIA Novosti quoted the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, saying he saw MH17 shot out of the sky by two Ukrainian jets.

In January 2015 a report produced by the German investigative team CORRECT!V concluded a Buk surface-to-air missile launcher operated by the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade shot down MH17. Large amounts of other circumstantial evidence were presented separately by various parties that supports this version, identifying specific launcher vehicle, operator name, truck transporting it and its alleged route through Russia and Ukraine.

In March 2015 Reuters published statements from named witnesses from Chervonyi Zhovten a village close to Torez and Snizhne, who said they saw the Buk rocket passing over the village when it was fired from a field around 1.5 km away. It also published a statement from a witness who was said to be a separatist fighter (referred to by first name only) who confirmed that the launcher was placed in that area on the day of the Boeing crash to prevent Ukrainian airstrikes.

In July 2015, News Corp Australia published the transcript of a 17-minute video recorded at the scene shortly after the crash. The transcript and published segments of the video indicated that Russian-backed rebels arrived at the crash site in the expectation of finding the wreckage of a military aircraft and of locating crew that had parachuted from the aircraft.

In May 2016, Stratfor released satellite imagery taken 5 hours before the crash which showed a Russian Buk system travelling on a flatbed truck east through the town of Makiivka, 40 km away from Snizhne. Stratfor’s concluded that a Buk system had moved from the Russian border toward Donetsk on 15 July 2014, and then moved back to the east on the afternoon of 17 July 2014, hours before Flight MH17 was shot down.

 Dutch Safety Board reports

Preliminary report

On 9 September 2014, the preliminary report was released by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB). This preliminary report concluded that there was no evidence of any technical or operational failure in the aircraft or from the crew prior to the ending of the CVR and FDR recording at 13.20:03 hrs (UTC). The report also said that “damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft”. According to the investigators, this damage probably led to a loss of structural integrity that caused an in-flight break-up first of the forward parts of the aircraft and then of the remainder with an expansive geographic spread of the aircraft’s pieces.

Tjibbe Joustra, Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, explained that the investigation thus far pointed towards an external cause of the MH17 crash, but determining the exact cause required further investigation. They also said that they aimed to publish the final report within a year of the crash date.

Final report

9

 Narrated reconstruction of the missile impact, produced by the Dutch Safety Board

The Dutch Safety Board issued its final report on the crash on 13 October 2015. The report concluded that the crash was caused by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile with a 9N314M warhead. The warhead detonated outside and above the left-hand side of the cockpit. The impact killed the three people in the cockpit and caused structural damage to the airplane leading to an in-flight break-up resulting in a wreckage area of 50 square kilometers and loss of the lives of all 298 occupants. Based on evidence they were able to exclude meteor strikes, the plane having technical defects, a bomb, and an air-to-air attack as causes of the crash. The DSB calculated the trajectory of the missile and found it was fired within a 320-square-kilometre (120 sq. mi) area southeast of Torez. Narrowing down a specific launch site was outside the DSB’s mandate. The findings do not specify who launched the Buk missile but according to Al Jazeera, the area identified by the DSB was controlled by separatists at the time of the downing.

In addition to the technical investigation, the selection of the flight route was also investigated by the DSB. There were 61 flight operators from 32 countries who flew over eastern Ukraine at the time of the crash, who believed it was safe to fly there at cruising altitude. In the DSB’s opinion, there was sufficient reason to fully close the airspace over eastern Ukraine as a precaution. The DSB recommended that states involved in armed conflicts should exercise more caution when evaluating their airspace, and operators should more thoroughly assess the risks when selecting routes over conflict areas.

 The Dutch Safety Board issued its final report on the crash on 13 October 2015. The report concluded that the crash was caused by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile with a 9N314M warhead. The warhead detonated outside and above the left-hand side of the cockpit. The impact killed the three people in the cockpit and caused structural damage to the airplane leading to an in-flight break-up resulting in a wreckage area of 50 square kilometers and loss of the lives of all 298 occupants. Based on evidence they were able to exclude meteor strikes, the plane having technical defects, a bomb, and an air-to-air attack as causes of the crash. The DSB calculated the trajectory of the missile and found it was fired within a 320-square-kilometre (120 sq. mi) area southeast of Torez. Narrowing down a specific launch site was outside the DSB’s mandate. The findings do not specify who launched the Buk missile but according to Al Jazeera, the area identified by the DSB was controlled by separatists at the time of the downing.

In addition to the technical investigation, the selection of the flight route was also investigated by the DSB. There were 61 flight operators from 32 countries who flew over eastern Ukraine at the time of the crash, who believed it was safe to fly there at cruising altitude. In the DSB’s opinion, there was sufficient reason to fully close the airspace over eastern Ukraine as a precaution. The DSB recommended that states involved in armed conflicts should exercise more caution when evaluating their airspace, and operators should more thoroughly assess the risks when selecting routes over conflict areas.

Criminal investigation

The criminal investigation into the downing of MH17 is being led by the Public Prosecution Service of the Dutch Ministry of Justice, and is the largest in Dutch history, involving dozens of prosecutors and 200 investigators. Investigators interviewed witnesses and examined forensic samples, satellite data, intercepted communications, and information on the Web. Participating in the investigation along with the Netherlands, are the four other members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), Belgium, Ukraine, Australia, and lastly, Malaysia, which joined in November 2014. Early in the investigation, the JIT eliminated accident, internal terrorist attack or air-to-air attack from another aircraft as the cause of the crash.

In December 2014, in a letter to the Security Council, the Netherlands UN representative wrote that The Dutch government is deliberately refraining from any speculation or accusations regarding legal responsibility for the downing of MH17. Also, in December, the assistant secretary of the Department of State’s European and Eurasian Affairs said America had given all of its information, including classified information to the Dutch investigators and to the ICAO.

On 30 March 2015, the JIT released a Russian-language video calling for witnesses in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions who might have seen a Buk missile system. The video included some previously undisclosed recordings allegedly of tapped phone conversations between rebel fighters about the Buk. In one recording, of a conversation a few hours after the shoot down, a fighter says that a member of the Buk’s accompanying crew had been left behind at a checkpoint. In another recording, dated the day after the shoot down, a rebel allegedly says the Buk system and its crew had been brought from Russia by the Librarian. The video presents a “scenario” whereby a Buk missile was transported on a Volvo low loader truck from Severnyi, a town located within a kilometer of the Russian border, to Donetsk during the night of 16/17 July. In the week following the public appeal, the JIT received more than 300 responses resulting in dozens of serious witnesses. In 2016 the presence of the transloader of matching color with a Buk missile was confirmed on a satellite photo of the area taken just a few hours before the downing of the plane, which was described as correlating with other evidence by Stratfor who found the photo in Digital Globe archive.

On 9 April 2015 Dutch authorities made available 569 documents concerning the shoot-down. Personal information and official interviews had been redacted. A further 147 documents were not made public.

Findings of the Joint Investigation Team

On 28 September 2016, the JIT gave a press conference in which it confirmed that the aircraft was shot down with a 9M38 Buk missile which it concluded had been fired from a rebel-controlled field near Pervomaisky, a town 6 km (3.7 mi) south of Snizhne. It also found the Buk missile system used had been transported from Russia into Ukraine on the day of the crash, and then back into Russia after the crash, with one missile less than it arrived with. The JIT said they had identified 100 people, witnesses as well as suspects, who were involved in the movement of the Buk launcher, though they had not yet identified a clear chain of command to assess culpability, which was a matter for ongoing investigation. The Dutch chief prosecutor said “the evidence must stand before a court” which would render final judgement. During the investigation, the JIT interviewed 200 witnesses, collected half a million photos and videos and analyzed 150,000 intercepted phone calls. According to JIT head prosecutor Fred Westerbeke the criminal investigation is fully based on immense body of evidence, including testimonies of live witnesses who saw the Buk launcher, original photos, movies and primary radar data rather than random social media publications as frequently claimed by Russian media.

 Proposed international tribunal

In June 2015, the Netherlands, supported by the other JIT members, sought to create an international tribunal to prosecute those suspected of downing the Malaysian airliner, which would take up the case after the closing of the criminal investigation. The Dutch hoped that an international tribunal would induce Russian cooperation, which was considered critical. In late June 2015, the Russian government rejected a request by the five countries on the investigative committee to form a UN tribunal which would try those responsible for the shooting down of the aircraft, calling it not timely and counterproductive. On 8 July 2015, Malaysia, a member of the UN Security Council, distributed a draft resolution to establish such a tribunal. This resolution was jointly proposed by the five JIT member countries. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin responded, I don’t see any future for this resolution. Unfortunately, it seems that this is an attempt to organize a grandiose, political show, which only damages efforts to find the guilty parties. Russia later circulated a rival resolution which criticized the international investigation’s lack of “due transparency” and demanded those responsible be brought to justice, but which did not call for a tribunal. In a vote, Malaysia’s resolution gained majority support of the UNSC, but was vetoed by Russia.

Criminal prosecution

In an official statement by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs of 5 July 2017, it was announced that the JIT-countries will prosecute any suspects who are identified in the downing of flight MH17 in the Netherlands and under Dutch Law. A future treaty between the Netherlands and Ukraine will make it possible for the Netherlands to prosecute in the cases of all 298 victims, regardless of their nationality. This treaty was to be signed 7 July 2017, but a political crisis involving the dismissal of Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili and the destabilization of the Ukrainian Government resulted delayed this for six months. On 21 March 2018, the Dutch government sent legislation to the parliament, allowing the suspects involved to be prosecuted in the Netherlands under Dutch law. As of May 2018, however, no charges have been filed.

British ISC report

On 20 December 2017, the British Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published a 122-page report covering a substantial range or subjects, notably a section entitled Russian objectives and activity against UK and allied interests. This section made clear the stance of Britain about Russia and its involvement in the MH17 event, stating that there is categoric evidence to support the claim that Russian military forces supplied and recovered the Buk missile launcher. This was the first report to outrightly accuse Russia of orchestrating the attack, although it does not state whether MH17 was the intended target. The report quotes MI6 as stating: Russia conducts information warfare on a massive scale… An early example of this was a hugely intensive, multichannel propaganda effort to persuade the world that Russia bore no responsibility for the shooting down of [Malaysian Airlines flight] MH-17 (an outright falsehood: we know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russian military supplied and subsequently recovered the missile launcher).

Organizations

On 17 July the European Union’s representatives José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy released a joint statement calling for an immediate and thorough investigation. The EU officials also said that Ukraine has first claim on the plane’s black boxes.

The International Civil Aviation Organization announced, on 18 July, that it was sending its team of experts to assist the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine(NBAAI), under Article 26 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2166 on 21 July, regarding an official crime investigation into the incident. On 24 July 2014 the ICAO issued a State Letter reminding signatory states of their responsibilities with respect to the safety and security of civil aircraft operating in airspace affected by conflict.

After the crash, memorial services were held in Australia and in the Netherlands, which declared 23 July, the day when the first victims arrived in the country, a national day of mourning, the first since 1962. The opening ceremony of the AIDS 2014 conference, on 20 July, of which several delegates had been on board Flight MH17, began with a tribute to the victims of the crash.  In Malaysia, makeshift memorials were created in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

 Russian media coverage

In July 2014, shortly after the crash, the liberal Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a headline in Dutch that read Vergeef ons, Nederland (Forgive Us, Netherlands).

Coverage by official media and bodies has however differed from coverage in most other countries and significantly changed over time usually in response to new evidence published by DSB and the investigation team.

According to the poll conducted by the Levada Center between 18 and 24 July 80% of Russians surveyed believed that the crash of MH17 was caused by the Ukrainian military. Only 3% of respondents to the poll blamed the disaster on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In December 2017 the Russian portal The Insider, the news agency McClatchyDC, and Bellingcat performed a joint investigation that confirmed the identity of a high-rank military officer using a call-sign Dolphin to be colonel general Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev. Tkachev is frequently heard in the wiretaps acquired by JIT supervising the operation of “Buk” delivery and set-up

 Initial reactions and An-26 downing version

In the weeks preceding the crash, DPR and Russian media celebrated acquisition of the Buk launchers by the separatists and downing of several Ukrainian air force aircraft.

On the evening of the crash, the Life News portal released a statement from the separatists saying that a Ukrainian Air Force An-26 transport plane had been shot down by a missile and crashed.  ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti also reported that an An-26 had been shot down by the separatist militia near Torez at around 16:00 local time in what it described yet another victory of DPR self-defense.

However, shortly after it became evident that the plane was a civilian one the separatist media denied any involvement in the crash and possession of anti-aircraft missiles capable of reaching this altitude.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

 

 

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