Flight MH17: what we have learned from the final report

Oct 13, 2015

Malaysian Airlines flight was brought down by a Russian-built Buk missile, Dutch investigators conclude

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

The wrecked cockpit of flight MH17 is presented to the press during the reading of the final report 

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian-built missile according to the final report of the Dutch Safety Board. Its findings come 15 months after the plane came down, killing all 298 people on board.

Grieving relatives were told of the findings first, before a press conference and partial reconstruction in a hanger at Gilze-Rijen Airforce Base in The Netherlands, the BBC reports.

The investigation aimed to answer four key questions; what caused the plane to disintegrate in mid-air? Why was it flying over the conflict zone? To what extent were those on board aware of what was happening? And why the identification of the bodies was delayed?

Investigators concluded that:

The plane was shot down by Buk missile

The impact pattern and paint found on metal fragments in the plane proved that the aircraft had been struck by a Russian-made 9M38 Buk surface-to-air missile, DSB chairman Tjibbe Joustra told reporters. Investigators were able to discount technical defects, meteor strikes, fires or explosions inside the plane, as well as an air-to-air attack.

The warhead hit the front of the plane from the left-hand side and is believed to have been launched from somewhere within a 320 sq km area in eastern Ukraine.

Investigators did not apportion blame for the strike, but Western nations have long accused Russia-backed rebels fighting in the area of shooting down the plane. The Kremlin continues to deny the claims, placing the blame on the Ukrainian military instead. A separate international criminal investigation into the attack is ongoing.

The safety board released an animated video detailing how the plane was shot down by the missile:

The plane should not have been flying over Ukraine

The report concluded that the airspace above the conflict raging in eastern Ukraine should have been closed. "No one considered that civil aircraft at cruising altitude were at risk," said Joustra. He called on conflict-ridden states to do more to protect civil aviation and urged flight operators to be more transparent about their flight routers, Sky news reports.

Some passengers and crew may have been conscious

Although relatives were told that it was "out of the question" that those onboard suffered, the report concludes that it "cannot be ruled out that some occupants remained conscious for some time during the one to one-and-a-half minutes for which the crash lasted". However, the DSB said their experience would have varied depending on where they were seated and most people would not have been able to comprehend what was happening. 

It won't put an end to denials and accusations

The biggest question remains unanswered: who was responsible for shooting down the plane? The Kremlin issued a statement condemning the Dutch investigation as "biased" and an "obvious attempt to carry out a political order".

Russian officials from Almaz-Antey, the state-owned firm which manufactures the missiles, today offered what they say is evidence that the missile was fired from Ukrainian-held territory. 

Kiev, meanwhile, has once again pointed the finger directly at Russia. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told Reuters that the trigger was pulled by professional Russian soldiers as "drunken separatists" would not have been able to operate the system. 

Washington has welcomed the report as an "important milestone" in the effort to hold those responsible accountable, the BBC reports. "Our assessment is unchanged - MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine," it said. 

Flight MH17 report due: what is it likely to reveal? 

12 October

Investigators at the Dutch Safety Board are preparing to release a final report into the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which crashed in Ukraine last year killing all 298 people on board.

Western nations suspect that the passenger plane was destroyed by a missile fired by Russia-backed rebels fighting in the area. Moscow denies the accusations, placing the blame on Ukraine instead.

The long-awaited technical report will provide some answers, with many expecting it to conclude that the plane was shot downby Buk missile fired from a mobile launcher. Investigators may also reveal the type of surface-to-air missile used and possibly the direction from which it was fired.  

The angle of impact is important, says the Daily Telegraph. If investigators conclude that the missile was fired from south-east of the crash site it will "add weight to the suspicion" that it was carried out by Russian-backed separatists. 

The report could also offer an assessment on whether a commercial airliner should have been flying over a conflict zone and whether passengers where conscious when the plane fell to the ground. 

Despite this, the findings won't give closure to the families of the victims as investigators have made it clear that their inquiries would not focus on blame and culpability, says The Guardian. That will be the job of a separate international criminal investigation which is expected to last until next year.

But as Russia vetoed proposals for an international criminal tribunal into the crash earlier this year, it is unclear where and how possible criminal charges could be brought.

"This is a uniquely difficult case," said Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt."It isn't a simple crime. It has immediate ramifications in the international political arena."

Flight MH17: 'Russian missile parts' discovered at crash site

11 August 

Fragments discovered at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 could belong to a Russian surface-to-air missile, according to investigators.

The passenger plane, which was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came down in pro-Russian rebel held territory in eastern Ukraine last July, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.  

Western authorities suspect that the plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatists fighting in the area. Moscow continues to deny the accusations, placing the blame on the Ukrainian military.

"The parts are of particular interest to the criminal investigation as they can possibly provide more information about who was involved in the crash of MH17," said Dutch prosecutors leading the international criminal investigation into the crash

However, they have not yet managed to prove a "causal connection" between the fragments and the crash, the BBC reports.

It remains unclear how where, when or how any suspects would be tried if they are identified, says Reuters. Last month, Moscow vetoed proposals for an international criminal tribunal into the crash.

Anger after Russia blocks tribunal into MH17 crash

30 July

Russia has vetoed proposals for an international criminal tribunal into the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

It was the only nation to vote against the measure, using its veto power as a permanent member of UN Security Council to prevent the draft resolution from passing.

Flight MH17 was brought down over territory held by pro-Russian rebels in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk last July, killing all 298 passengers and crew onboard.

Kiev and the West suspect the plane was destroyed by a Russian surface-to-air missile fired by Russia-backed separatists fighting in the area - allegations denied by Moscow.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's envoy to the UN, insisted Russia was "ready to co-operate in the conduct of a full, independent and objective investigation ... to identify those guilty and to punish them", The Guardian reports.

But he questioned whether his country would be treated fairly by the proposed tribunal, saying after the vote: "What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation?"

While Russia was the only nation out of 15 member states to block the proposal, China, Venezuela and Angola abstained.

Moscow and Beijing enjoy a burgeoning trade relationship, while Russia's top oil producer, Rosneft, agreed on a $14 billion investment in Venezuela earlier this year. Angola and Russia, meanwhile, have a long-standing friendship, dating back to the former USSR's support for the country's independence. 

The veto has triggered condemnation, with US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accusing Moscow of "callously" disregarding calls for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, also attacked Vladimir Putin for blocking the tribunal, calling it "an affront to the memory" of the victims and their families and friends.

"The anticipated excuses and obfuscation by the Russian Federation should be treated with the utmost disdain," she said.

MH17: are we any closer to justice one year after crash?

17 July

It is one year today since the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 broke up over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board – but justice is yet to be delivered for the victims and their families.

The Boeing 777, which was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came down on 17 July 2014, four months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared.

US officials have said a radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before MH17 was shot out of the sky. Ukraine and the West blame Russian-backed separatist rebels, while Moscow and the rebels have denied any involvement and blamed Ukraine.

As memorial services are held today for the victims –  from countries including the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia and the UK – Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that "justice must be delivered" for the innocent people who lost their lives.

There are several formal platforms through which the international community is trying to pursue this goal:

MH17 international investigation

The Dutch Safety Board has been directing an international team of investigators – from Malaysia, Ukraine, the US, the Russian Federation, the UK, Australia and the Netherlands – and is due to release a final report in October. Its initial results, published in September, found that damage to the wreckage and the pattern of debris on the ground was consistent with the theory that a "number of high energy objects" penetrated the plane, causing an "in-flight break-up" of the aircraft.

The final investigative report will apparently identify pro-Russian rebels as the culprits, according to sources who have seen a draft of the document. One insider told CNN that the report acknowledges evidence suggesting that pro-Russian rebels launched a Buk missile, a Russian surface-to-air missile, from a village in rebel-controlled territory of eastern Ukraine. Two sources say the report also pins some blame on Malaysia Airlines for failing to avoid the conflict zone.

MH17 lawsuits

Igor Girkin, the leader of Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, was formally accused of orchestrating the attack this week. The families of 18 passengers, including six Britons, filed a lawsuit in Chicago against Girkin for $900m under the US Torture Victim Protection Act, which can be used against foreign nationals. The writ also alleges that Girkin "acted with the actual or apparent authority of individuals in the Government of Russia". A spokesman for Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, said he would not be responding to the allegations.

The Donetsk People's Republic and the Kremlin have always denied responsibility for the disaster. However, social media accounts linked to the rebels claimed to have taken out a Ukrainian An-26 on the day of the crash, reports the Daily Telegraph. The posts were swiftly removed when it emerged that a commercial plane, not a military aircraft, had been hit. Messages such as "We warned them – don't fly in our sky" led many to believe the rebels might have brought down the Boeing 777 by mistake. An intercepted call, released by the Ukraine Secret Service, purported to show the moment when a rebel leader realised they had hit a civilian plane.

MH17 UN tribunal

Countries who lost citizens in the MH17 disaster are pushing for a United Nations tribunal to prosecute any suspects eventually identified in the final investigation report. Hammond repeated the call for an international tribunal today, saying that "any attempt to undermine this process would deprive the victims of justice and cannot be tolerated". However, the Moscow Times says Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the calls as "counterproductive and premature".

From last year: report blames missile for MH17 explosion

MH17: Malaysia calls for UN tribunal to prosecute suspects

03 July

Malaysia is calling for an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those suspected of having shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The passenger plane, which was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

The jet had been flying over territory held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine when it was struck. Kiev and the West suspect the plane was destroyed by a Russian surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatists fighting in the area. However, Moscow firmly denies the accusations.

Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand's UN ambassador and this month's president of the UN Security Council, said Malaysia had briefed council members of its intention to "present a resolution in relation to MH17".

He added that the country was "seeking to find a mechanism to deal with criminal accountability in relation to the downing of the aircraft".

The new proposal has the backing of Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ukraine, reports the BBC.

However, according to AFP news agency, Russia's deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov has described the plan as "not timely and counterproductive".

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, diplomats told AP that Malaysia's UN ambassador Ramlan Bin Ibrahim plans to circulate the proposed text of a resolution in the coming days, with a draft statute to establish the tribunal included in an annex. He will be seeking its adoption by the end of July.

Flight MH17: new footage shows aftermath of crash – video

17 November 2014

Newly released video footage appears to shows the moments after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine.

The footage, which seems to have been taken on a mobile phone, show locals running to investigate the crash site.

In the amateur video a huge fire burns freely in a field, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. Wreckage litters a road running past a collection of rural houses. Some residents fill buckets of water to try to put out the flames.

The video was obtained by the Associated Press news agency four months after the disaster. It shows how close the plane was to crashing in Hrabove, a village in the east of Ukraine approximately 50 miles from the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk.

Locals can be heard asking whether the plane was Ukrainian, The Independent reports. One person asks: "Where is the pilot?" Another responds: "Who the hell knows?"

Western governments accused Moscow of supplying pro-Russian rebels with the Buk surface-to-air missile launcher that they believe was used to shoot down the Boeing 777 aeroplane as it cruised at 33,000 feet. The Kremlin vehemently denies any involvement in the crash.

MH17: Russia challenged to prove Ukraine shot down plane

29 October

Dutch prosecutors are asking Russia for evidence of its claim that a Ukrainian military aircraft shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Western officials believe it was pro-Russian separatists who hit the aircraft with a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board. But Russia claims it has radar imagery to prove that Ukraine was responsible.

In an interview published by Germany's Der Spiegel, Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said he would ask Moscow to provide evidence.

"Based on the information available, a shooting-down by a ground-to-air missile is the most likely scenario, but we aren't closing our eyes to the possibility that it could have happened differently," he said. "We are preparing a request to Moscow for information... including the radar data with which the Russians wanted to prove that a Ukrainian military jet was nearby."

An interim report issued by the Dutch Safety Board listed several passenger jets in flight MH17's vicinity, but no military aircraft that could have shot it down.

The Boeing 777 airliner was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on 17 July. More than two-thirds of the victims were Dutch citizens.

In the last few weeks, Dutch authorities have faced fierce criticism from the victims' families, who claim there has not been enough progress in identifying the perpetrators.

Westerbeke urged patience with the investigation, saying it would take at least until the end of next year.

He ten prosecutors are working on the case in the Netherlands, as well as around 80 police officers, with regular meetings with their colleagues in Malaysia, Australia and Ukraine.

He said that metal fragments found in the bodies and luggage could help identify the weapon used to attack the plane.

The team has ruled out an accident or terrorist attack and believe the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile or another aircraft. Westerbeke added that, in his eyes, the surface-to-air missile was still the most likely scenario.


MH17: Why was passenger wearing oxygen mask?

10 October

The body of a passenger who died on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was found wearing an oxygen mask, Dutch prosecutors have said, raising questions about whether some passengers and crew were conscious as their plane went down.

The passenger, an Australian, was found with the oxygen mask around his neck rather than secured to his face, investigators noted. Experts subsequently analysed the mask "for fingerprints, saliva and DNA and that did not produce any results, so it is not known how or when that mask got around the neck of the victim," Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch agency investigating the incident, said.

No other bodies were found wearing oxygen masks, De Bruin confirmed.

All 298 passengers and crew onboard the flight were killed when flight MH17 crashed on 17 July in the border region between Ukraine and Russia. Many in the West suspect pro-Russian separatists of shooting the plane down by accident, but Moscow blames Ukraine for the disaster.

A preliminary report concluded that the plane had been "punctured by high-energy objects" – a finding consistent with the plane having been shot down by a rocket, possibly from a Buk missile launcher.

De Bruin said he had informed the victim's family, but news of the oxygen mask only became known to the families of other victims when the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, who suggested in an interview on a TV talk show this week that the passenger had secured the mask to his face.

Timmermans said that it was unlikely that the passengers saw a missile coming, but that the discovery of the mask-wearing passenger indicated that at least one person had remained conscious in the moments after the plane had been hit.

"No, they did not see the missile coming, but did you know that someone was found with an oxygen mask over his mouth? So someone had the time to do that," he said.

After hearing the foreign minister's comments, some relatives of victims began calling investigators on Thursday for more information, The Guardian reports.

The foreign ministry subsequently issued a statement apologising for the comments.

"I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the next-of-kin," Timmermans said. "The last thing I want to do is compound their suffering in this way."


Flight MH17: Mystery donor offers £18m reward for information

18 September

An anonymous benefactor has offered a $30m (£18.4m) reward for information on the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine.

The donor has hired the German private investigation firm Wifka to find out who was responsible for the crash that killed all 298 people on board in July.  

"Whoever provides evidence that identifies those behind the shoot down, will be given the reward of 30 million dollars," the company said, according to the German business magazine Capital.

It is believed to be the largest bounty in history, surpassing the $25 million offered by the US government in 2010 for information leading to the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

"Everyone can be bought. It’s just a question of how much," said the company director Josef Resch.

Wifka has advised those with valuable information to "take care" and contact the company through a lawyer.  "Details should not be given away lightly," said the agency.

According to Wifca, the funds are already in a bank in Zurich and the whistleblower will be provided with a new identity if necessary.

Russian separatists have been widely blamed for shooting down the plane, a claim they deny.

A preliminary report on the crash revealed that Flight MH17 was 'punctured by high-energy objects' in mid-air. The official investigation continues.


Flight MH17 'punctured by high-energy objects' in mid-air

09 September

Dutch experts investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 believe "a large number of high-energy objects" hit the aircraft, causing it to break up in mid-air.

A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board found no indication of any technical or operational issues with the crew or aircraft, which crashed in rebel-held territory of eastern Ukraine on 17 July.

All 298 people on board died.

Ukraine's government and the US believe pro-Russian separatists shot down the plane with a Buk missile launcher.

The plane's black boxes revealed no signs of an emergency situation in the final moments of the flight and no distress calls were made to air traffic control, says the Dutch Safety Board.

"The cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder and data from air traffic control all suggest that flight MH17 proceeded as normal until 13:20:03 (UTC), after which it ended abruptly," says the report.

Transcripts of air traffic control's radio communications demonstrate the confusion on the ground, as they first ask why the plane is not responding to their calls before stating: "It's disappeared."

Photographs show that the pieces of wreckage were pierced in numerous places. "The pattern of damage to the aircraft fuselage and the cockpit is consistent with that which may be expected from a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside," say the investigators. "It's likely that this damage resulted in a loss of structural integrity of the aircraft, leading to an in-flight break up."

The BBC's Anna Holligan says the findings are significant because they are the first official account of what happened. A separate criminal investigation is being conducted by prosecutors in The Hague, although a full forensic search of the site has been stalled by heavy fighting in the area.

The Dutch Safety Board's full report, expected in mid-2015, is likely to determine more precisely what caused the crash and how the plane disintegrated.

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