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: Malaysia mourns lost victims 

22 August 

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

31 July

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."


Flight MH17: military mission to secure crash site 'unrealistic'

28 July

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has ruled out sending an international military force to secure the MH17 crash site, saying it would be "unrealistic," the BBC reports. 

"Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is, according to our conclusion, not realistic", he said.

The eastern areas of Donetsk and Luhansk continue to be plagued by fighting between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

Rutte warned that such action could provoke the separatists and further "destabilise the situation" in the region. His conclusion follows early plans that were mooted for a joint operation to secure the crash site by the governments of the Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia.

An official investigation of the site has not yet been carried out as the area is still under the control of pro-Russian rebels. There are increasing fears that evidence from the crash may be lost or removed as separatists and locals disturb the crime scene. Several bodies are still missing in the fields surrounding the crash site, while the repatriation process continues.

"We cannot take the risk", Alexander Hug from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) told the BBC.

Following allegations that victims' credit cards and other valuable had been looted from the crash, a woman from Donetsk caused outrage when she posted an image to Instagram showing her wearing mascara apparently stolen from the crash site.

The self-identified Russian separatist captioned the photo "mascara from Amsterdam, from the field to be precise, you know what I mean", the International Business Times reports.

In separate developments, the US government has released intelligence documents which it says prove that Russia has been firing across the border into Ukraine. The satellite images also prove that the separatists in eastern Ukraine are using heavy artillery provided by Russia, US officials said.

Flight MH17: Commander admits rebels had Buk missile

24 July

A pro-Russian rebel commander has admitted that separatists did possess the Buk missile system (above), which Western leaders suspect was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, told Reuters that the anti-aircraft missile system could have originated in Russia and may have been sent back since the disaster.

"That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back," he said. "They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence."

The US presented evidence in Washington yesterday that points to the use of a Buk missile system against the civilian plane, which crashed last Thursday killing all 298 people on board. Officials said the "most plausible explanation" was that rebels mistook the airliner for another aircraft.

Khodakovsky suggested Kiev had goaded rebels into the attack by launching air strikes in the area while knowing that the rebels had a missile launcher in place.

He claimed that after a week of no air strikes, Kiev had chosen to carry out an airborne attack on a target "they did not need" at the moment a civilian plane flew overhead.

"That day, they were intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes. Even if there was a Buk, and even if the Buk was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down." 

He added: "Ukraine received timely evidence that the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia. It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians."

However, another pro-Russian rebel leader – Alexander Borodai, self-declared prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) – has categorically denied the presence of the Russian-made SA-11 Buk missile system in the crash area. Speaking to the BBC in Donetsk, he insisted any evidence to the contrary was "fake".

Flight MH17: Bodies missing as repatriation begins

23 July

The first bodies from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have arrived in The Netherlands, the BBC reports.

But Dutch officials say only 200 of the 282 recovered bodies arrived by train in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday night. Interpol began the preliminary identification process after they arrived from Donetsk.

The plane landed in Eindhoven, where it was met by Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, and members of the royal family. They will then be taken to Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks for further identification.

Rutte warned families that while the identification process might be quick in some cases, other cases could take "weeks or even months".

A day of national mourning is being held in the Netherlands for the 193 Dutch victims who died in the crash.

Meanwhile, declassified US intelligence documents have revealed that officials believe Russia "created the conditions" that resulted in the downing of the Malaysian airliner, but found no direct link to Moscow.

They instead suggested that the Russian separatists in Donetsk shot down the plane "by mistake", The Guardian reports.

The black boxes, handed over to Dutch authorities by Malaysian officials, have now arrived in Farnborough where they will be analysed by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, according to the BBC.

"They're confident that, depending on the level of damage, they will be able to retrieve the information within 24 hours," a spokesperson for the Department of Transport told the Guardian.

Flight MH17: bodies and black boxes handed over by rebels 

22 July

Four days after flight MH17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, almost all of the passengers' bodies have been sent on a slow journey to the Netherlands to be identified by forensic experts.

Senior rebel leaders finally agreed to hand over the bodies and the plane's black boxes, and allow international investigators access to the crash site.

A freight train carrying 282 passengers is on its way to Kharkiv, a city controlled by the Ukrainian government. The bodies will then be prepared for transfer by air to the Netherlands. The remains of 16 people are still believed to be missing.

Although the bodies were placed in a refrigerator train, the Dutch victim identification team was told that the refrigeration units had broken down during a power cut on Sunday, reports The Times.

"Investigators wore face masks and bowed their heads before entering the trucks, which emitted an overwhelming stench," says the newspaper.

The train later arrived in Donetsk but was temporarily held up in the wake of heavy fighting around the city's railway station.

The black boxes have been handed over to Malaysian officials, who said the recorders were "in good condition". Experts hope they will reveal the exact time of the incident, the altitude of the plane and its precise position, as well as recordings from the cockpit.

Families of British victims have been urgently cancelling credit cards and mobile phone accounts amid claims that the bodies were "looted", the Daily Telegraph reported last night. Witnesses claimed separatists had been pocketing valuables and electronic equipment from the site.

Rebel commander Alexander Borodai admitted that items might have been stolen and promised to punish the offenders. "Sons of bitches can be found everywhere," he told reporters. "We are now investigating. Those who are guilty would be severely punished."

According to The Guardian, Malaysia Airlines is facing further criticism after it emerged that in diverting its planes away from Ukraine, it had sent at least one flight over another conflict zone: Syria.

Flight MH17: shrapnel scars on wreckage 'proves plane was shot down'

21 July

Shrapnel scars on the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 confirms that the plane was hit by a missile, experts say.

Photographs taken by The Times newspaper show extensive damage to two sections of the plane's fuselage, which was most likely caused by a missile.

"The damage looks to be in keeping with what you would expect to see from a fragmentation warhead,” said a defence aviation expert, who told The Times he didn't want to be named because a formal investigation had yet to begin. "The pattern of damage and any recovered pre-fabricated fragments would provide valuable indicators of the type of missile."

Another expert agreed, noting that the "extensive external blackening" could indicate shrapnel spray and that holes in the plane's external aluminium structure were "consistent with the flight of missile fragments". 

The Times sent its photographer to visit the wreckage twice on two consecutive days. On their second visit, reporters found that sections of the fuselage had been moved and turned over.

The discovery of sections of the plane across an area of 10 square miles is also consistent with the theory that the Boeing 777 broke up in mid-air, experts say.

Robert Goyer, the editor-in-chief of Flying Magazine, says that the plane must have exploded at high altitude. "I have seen a photograph of the floor structure of the aeroplane, torn apart at the metal structural ties, capable of withstanding many tens of thousands of pounds of force, resting in a field in rural Ukraine," he told Time magazine. "The section in question weighs around 10,000 pounds. It’s not the kind of component that breaks off and flutters away."

Flight MH17: US has 'overwhelming evidence' of Russian involvement

21 July

The US secretary of state John Kerry has said that the US has "overwhelming evidence" that Russia played a role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

In a series of interviews on Sunday, Kerry said that Russia must take responsibility for actions that led to the suspected shooting down of the Boeing 777 on Thursday.

US spies had intercepted a phone call about the transfer of radar-guided SA-11 missile systems to rebels in the east of Ukraine, Kerry said. They also have a video of one of the missile launchers, missing at least one rocket, moving back from a rebel-controlled area to Russian territory soon after flight MH17 came down.

"There's [an] enormous amount of evidence, even more evidence than I just documented, that points to the involvement of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on them," Kerry said on CBS News.

He called for a full investigation overseen by dispassionate international observers to "draw the appropriate conclusions" and prevent a "he-said-she-said, finger-pointing back-and-forth" about responsibility for the crash.

Kerry said that the US also possesses evidence of a column of armoured vehicles and missile launchers being transferred from Russia to the separatists several weeks ago. None of the evidence has yet been released to the public, Al Jazeera reports.

Kerry said observers had witnessed "grotesque scenes" at the site of the crash, as separatist fighters manhandled bodies onto trucks.

The brother of one victim told the Daily Telegraph of his fears that bodies would be used as a negotiating tool.

"The fact that the rebels have taken the bodies concerns me," Hugo Hoare, whose brother Andrew was on flight MH17, said. "I just hope whatever they are doing is humane and their intention is just to release them at the appropriate time. The first thing I thought was what if they are going to use them as a bargaining chip?

David Cameron added his voice to calls for more sanctions against Russia if it failed to co-operate with the investigation.

"In a tense phone call, he told the Russian leader that the 'world is watching' and urged him to 'change course' or face tough new sanctions." the Telegraph reports. 

Flight MH17: what we know for certain and what happens next

18 July

The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine has shocked the world, with fears that tensions between the West and Russia could escalate dangerously. Rescuers are currently searching through the wreckage of flight MH17, which crashed in rebel-held territory near the Russian border yesterday, killing all 298 people on board. US intelligence analysis suggests the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile, but both pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government deny shooting the aircraft down and blame each other for the disaster. It comes just four months after another Malaysia Airlines plane, flight MH370, disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

What do we know for certain about Malaysia Airlines flight MH17?

The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it fell from the sky between Krasni Luch in the Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk. According to Malaysia Airlines, the plane was carrying at least 189 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians (15 of them members of the crew), 12 Indonesians and nine Britons. Other passengers came from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand. Several passengers were heading for a major international conference on HIV and Aids in Australia, including the world-renowned researcher Joep Lange.

What is Ukraine saying?

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is calling the disaster an "act of terrorism". The government has accused Russia of supplying advanced missiles to pro-Russian separatists and says intercepted phone conversations prove the plane was shot down by the rebels.

Are the separatists admitting responsibility?

No. Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the pro-Russian separatists, the Donetsk People's Republic, has accused the Ukrainian government of bringing down the airliner. However, separatist leader Igor Strelkov yesterday boasted of shooting down an Antonov-26 military plane of the Ukrainian Air Force. "We warned you – do not fly in 'our sky'," he wrote on Twitter. The message was quickly deleted once it became clear that a passenger flight had come down.

Buk missile launcher: the weapon that may have shot down flight MH17

What is Russia saying?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Ukraine for renewing military operations in the area. "This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in south-east Ukraine," he said in a statement. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

How have other world leaders reacted?

The US, which in the past few days has accused Russia of sending increasingly sophisticated weapons into eastern Ukraine, offered any assistance that it can. "While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fuelled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, material, and training," said a statement released by the White House. Britain has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which will be held this morning in New York. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak described the disaster as a "tragic day" in a "tragic year" for Malaysia.

Where are the black boxes?

Despite calls from Malaysia for nobody to interfere with the crash site, Russian radio station Kommersant FM claims the black boxes are on their way to Moscow. News service Interfax says separatists found the black boxes and agreed to give them to a Russian-run regional air safety authority. The Daily Telegraph warns that "whoever has access to the black box will have control over the information from the last moments of the flight, and they could prevent impartial investigators from analysing it". Rebels have allowed international monitors access to the crash site this afternoon, and 30 members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have arrived by helicopter.

Why was a passenger plane flying over a conflict zone in Ukraine?

Malaysia says the plane's route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, but AFP says some Asian carriers had abandoned the route months ago because of security concerns. Malaysia Airlines flights are now taking an alternative route and Ukrainian authorities have declared the area a no-fly zone.

What next for Malaysia Airlines?

Yesterday's news was greeted with disbelief in Malaysia, where families are still searching for answers about their missing loved ones aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Experts have told AP news agency that the "two astonishing tragedies in quick succession" may mean the airliner becomes the industry's "equivalent of asbestos". The company's value has plunged 43 per cent over the last nine months, and fell a further 18 per cent in trading this morning.

What next for the Ukrainian conflict?

Ukrainian media describe the crash as a "turning point" in the conflict, which can no longer be seen as a regional issue. Leaders in the West who have been reluctant to turn on Moscow will now be forced to reassess their position, says Damon Wilson, an expert on Ukraine at the Atlantic Council. "It's pretty difficult to continue playing that game if you have clear Russian fingerprints on the shooting down of a civilian airliner," he told the Washington Post. Other US and British newspapers make it clear that there is one man who can stop the escalating conflict and that is Vladimir Putin. Several editorials, including The Times, urge him to stop the flow of money and heavy weaponry to the separatists or face much harsher sanctions from the West. Others call for even tougher action from the West, with the Daily Mirror arguing: "Those powerful nations which have, so far, stood by and allowed Vladimir Putin and his bandits to ride roughshod over Ukraine MUST finally act." The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting this afternoon.

Malaysia Airlines plane 'shot down' over Russia-Ukraine border

17 July

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 295 people has crashed in Ukraine, with unconfirmed reports suggesting that it was shot down by a missile.

At least six Britons and 27 Australians were among the dead. More than half were Dutch.

Flight MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came down this afternoon near Ukraine's border with Russia.

Witnesses spoke of hearing "shooting in the sky" and loud explosions.

The airline announced the news in a tweet.

Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow.

— Malaysia Airlines (@MAS) July 17, 2014

The location of the crash led to immediate speculation that the Malaysia Airlines flight had been shot down.

That appeared to be confirmed by Anton Herashchenko, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, who told AP that flight MH17 was hit by a missile fired from a Buk anti-aircraft missile battery as it was flying at an altitude of 10,000m over eastern Ukraine.

According to the Daily Telegraph, "fighters from the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) overran a Ukrainian army garrison on June 29 and claimed to have captured at least one such weapon".

Data from the aircraft-tracking service Flightradar indicated that commercial airliners on similar routes are now avoiding airspace above the Russia-Ukraine border. Some reports suggested that the Malaysia Airlines aircraft was in restricted airspace when it was shot down, but the International Air Transport Association has denied those claims.

"A number of Ukrainian military planes have been shot down by missiles in recent weeks," the BBC reports, "with Ukraine accusing Russia's military of supplying advanced missiles to the rebels."

15 July: Ukraine claims plane must have been shot down from Russia

According to the Telegraph, "American intelligence is still unclear over whether the transport jet was brought down by Ukrainian separatists armed with powerful weapons or by the Kremlin's military forces massed on the Russian side of the border."

Alexander Borodai, leader of a separatist rebel group in eastern Ukraine, has denied his men were responsible.

The Guardian translated his tweet, from the Russian, as: "According to initial information, the plane was shot down by Ukrainian air defence. The rebels don't have weapons with which they could shoot down a plane at 10,000 metres."

But the paper's correspondent says that "the Donetsk People's Republic said in June its forces had captured Buk missiles from a Ukrainian military base, Itar-Tass news agency reported. The Buk missile has a range of 18,000 metres, according to some accounts".

Ukraine denied any involvement in the loss of the Malaysia Airlines plane, and Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, told reporters, "We didn't do it."

Journalists at the crash site report a scene of chaos, with uncertainty surrounding the fate of the black box recorder, which will hold details of flight MH17's last moments. Some reports suggest that a separatist group may have taken possession of the flight recorder. 

The video below shows amateur footage of the moment the aircraft came down.


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