In Brief

Missile that downed MH17 came from Russia, investigation rules

Inquiry into downed flight says Buk missile was fired from area in Ukraine occupied by pro-Russian rebels

Flight MH17: what we have learned from the final report

13 October 2015

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:

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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."

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