Flight MH17 'punctured by high-energy objects' in mid-air
Transcripts reveal confusion on the ground as contact with Malaysia Airlines MH17 abruptly ended
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.
Malaysia has declared its first ever national day of mourning as the bodies of 20 victims of the MH17 crash were brought home.
A ceremony was held as the plane carrying the bodies from Amsterdam touched down in Kuala Lumpur at about 10am local time today, The Independent reports.
The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the country’s King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah joined victims' families as coffins draped in the Malaysian flag were driven from the tarmac to private funerals. People around the country observed a minute's silence as the procession of hearses left the airport.
A total of 43 of the country's citizens died on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 when it crashed in July. After the tortuous process of retrieving the remains from war-torn Ukraine, the bodies were held in the Netherlands while Dutch forensic experts attempted to verify their identities.
All 298 passengers and crew onboard the flight were killed when flight MH17 crashed in fields near the Russia-Ukraine border. Many in the West suspect pro-Russian separatists of shooting the plane down, but Moscow blames Ukraine for the disaster.
"Today we mourn the loss of our people," Prime Minister Najib said in a statement. "Today, we begin to bring them home. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Today we stand with you, united as one."
The funeral for 28-year-old Newcastle United fan Liam Sweeney, the first Briton to be identified from the wreckage of flight MH17, took place last Thursday. Hundreds attended the funeral at St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle, including Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew and the club's captain, Fabricio Coloccini.
Flight MH17: 80 bodies still at Malaysia Airlines crash site
Up to 80 bodies are still believed to be at the Flight MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, two weeks after the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed.
The report comes amid growing fears in the West that Russia has been "actively undermining" the international investigation into how the aircraft crashed. Pro-Russian separatists are accused of shooting down the plane on 17 July, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.
Australian and Dutch investigators reportedly reached the crash site today after four days of failed attempts. Heavy fighting between Ukraine forces and the rebels has repeatedly forced the experts to abandon their search for remains and evidence.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said that a new report suggesting up to 80 bodies are yet to be found had made the investigators even more determined to gain access.
The investigation team is also keen to retrieve a large collection of personal items belonging to the victims from a morgue in the rebel-stronghold of Donetsk.
"It's heartbreaking. It's so distressing," she said yesterday after a fourth attempt to gain access failed. "We have the team in place, we have the experts ready to work, and we can't get to the site."
She said her "great fear" was that Russia was "actively undermining this process".
But the Ukraine government has agreed to a day-long pause in fighting following a plea from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It has also granted permission for investigators to carry weapons as a protective measure. Bishop tweeted today that the party of experts had finally made it onto the site.
Great news as Dutch-Aussie advance-party of experts have just made it on to #MH17 crash site. At last work begins to bring our people home.
— Julie Bishop (@JulieBishopMP) July 31, 2014
The Australian foreign minister said she was also aware of claims from the Ukrainian military that rebels had been laying land mines on roads through the crash site. "I don't know if those reports are confirmed," she told ABC radio. "If that is true, it is utterly despicable."