MH17: Russia challenged to prove Ukraine shot down plane
Investigators seek radar evidence that Russia says is proof that Ukrainian aircraft attacked flight MH17
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?
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
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
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.