Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

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For the aircraft that disappeared over the Indian Ocean, see Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
9M-MRD, the aircraft involved in the incident, photographed in October 2011
Shootdown summary
Date 17 July 2014 (2014-07-17)
Summary Airliner shootdown
Site Near Hrabove, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
48°8′17″N 38°38′20″E / 48.13806°N 38.63889°E / 48.13806; 38.63889Coordinates: 48°8′17″N 38°38′20″E / 48.13806°N 38.63889°E / 48.13806; 38.63889
Passengers 283
Crew 15
Fatalities 298 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing 777-200ER
Operator Malaysia Airlines
Registration 9M-MRD
Flight origin Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Destination Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17)[a] was a scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that crashed on 17 July 2014, having been shot down, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.[2] The Boeing 777-200ER airliner lost contact about 50 km (31 mi) from the Ukraine–Russia border and crashed near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 40 km (25 mi) from the border,[3] over territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.[4] The crash occurred during the Battle in Shakhtarsk Raion, part of the ongoing war in Donbass, in an area controlled by the Donbass People's Militia. According to American and German intelligence sources, the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists using a Buk surface-to-air missile fired from the territory which they controlled. The Russian government blamed the Ukrainian government.[5] The Dutch Safety Board is currently leading an investigation into the incident and issued a preliminary report on 9 September 2014; a final accident report is expected in August 2015.[6][7]

Evidence from open sources indicated that separatists in Ukraine were in control of a Buk missile launcher on 17 July and transported it from Donetsk to Snizhne.[8] This is based on tracing the path of the missile, analysis of shrapnel patterns in the wreckage, voice print analysis of separatists' conversations in which they claimed credit for the strike, and that photos and other data from social media sites all indicated that Russian-backed separatists had fired the missile.[5] Immediately after the crash, a post appeared on the VKontakte social media website attributed to Igor Girkin, leader of the Donbass separatists, claiming responsibility for shooting down an AN-26,[9][10][11] but after it became clear that a civilian aircraft had been shot down, the separatists denied any involvement, and the post was taken down. Russia has said that Ukraine "bears full, total responsibility" for the crash because it happened in Ukrainian airspace.[12] The Ukrainian government says the missile was launched by "Russian professionals and coordinated from Russia".[13][14] Malaysia said intelligence reports on the downing of MH17 were "pretty conclusive", but more investigation was necessary to be certain that a surface to air missile brought down the plane, after which they would look at the criminal side.[15][16][17] The German Federal Intelligence Service reportedly concluded that the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists using a captured Ukrainian Buk system.[18][19][20]

The crash of MH17 was the fifth Boeing 777 hull loss, the third in just over a year.[21][22] With 298 deaths, MH17 is the deadliest air incident in Ukraine,[23] the deadliest airliner shootdown in history,[24] and the deadliest involving a Boeing 777. The crash was Malaysia Airlines' worst incident and its second of the year, after the unrelated disappearance of MH370 on 8 March, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.[25]

Aircraft

Flight 17 was operated with a Boeing 777-2H6ER,[b] serial number 28411, registration 9M-MRD.[26] The 84th Boeing 777 produced, it first flew on 17 July 1997, exactly 17 years before the incident, and was delivered new to Malaysia Airlines on 29 July 1997.[27] Powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines and carrying up to 282 passengers (35 business and 247 economy), the aircraft had recorded more than 43,000 hours in 6,950 cycles before the crash.[28][29] The preliminary report issued by Dutch Safety Board concluded that "according to the documents, the aircraft was in an airworthy condition at departure, there were no known technical malfunctions."[30]:16

The Boeing 777, which entered commercial service on 7 June 1995, has one of the best safety records in commercial aircraft.[31] In June 2014 there were about 1,212 aircraft in service, with 340 more on order.[32]

Passengers and crew

People on board by nationality[25][33]
Nation Number
 Australia 27
 Belgium 4
 Canada[c][34] 1
 Germany[d] 4
 Indonesia 12
 Malaysia[e] 43
 Netherlands[f] 193
 New Zealand 1
 Philippines 3
 United Kingdom[g] 10
Total 298
Dutch Senator Willem Witteveen was a passenger on MH17.

All 283 passengers and 15 crew died.[35][36][37] The crew were all Malaysian and about two-thirds (68%) of the passengers were Dutch,[25][38] while many of the other passengers were Australians and Malaysians.[39] By 19 July, the airline had determined the nationalities of all 298 passengers and crew.[25]

Among the passengers were delegates en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, including Joep Lange, a former president of the International AIDS Society, which organized the conference.[40][41][42] Many initial reports had erroneously indicated that around 100 delegates to the conference were aboard, but this was later revised to just six.[43] Also on board were Dutch senator Willem Witteveen,[44] Australian author Liam Davison,[45] and Malaysian actress Shuba Jay.[46]

At least twenty family groups were on board the aircraft, and eighty of the passengers were children under the age of 18.[47][48]

The flight had two captains, Wan Amran Wan Hussin of Kuala Kangsar and Eugene Choo Jin Leong (Chinese: 朱仁隆 Zhū Rénlóng[49]) of Seremban, and two copilots, Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi and Muhd Firdaus Abdul Rahim.[50]

Background

A few airlines started to avoid eastern Ukrainian airspace in early March in the wake of the 2014 Crimean crisis, including Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and British Airways.[51][52] In April, the International Civil Aviation Organization warned governments that there was a risk to commercial passenger flights over Ukraine.[53] The American Federal Aviation Administration issued restrictions on flights over Crimea, to the south of MH17's route, and advised airlines flying over some other parts of Ukraine to "exercise extreme caution". This warning did not include the MH17 crash region.[54][55] 37 airlines continued overflying eastern Ukraine and about 900 flights crossed the Donetsk region in the seven days until the Boeing 777 was shot down, with Aeroflot, Singapore Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines being the most active carriers.[56]

Since the start of the conflict, several Ukrainian Air Force aeroplanes have been downed. On 14 June, an Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft was shot down on approach to Luhansk International Airport; all 49 people on board died.[57] On 29 June, Russian news agencies reported that insurgents had gained access to a Buk missile system after having taken control of a Ukrainian air defence base (possibly the former location of the 156th Anti-Aircraft Rocket Regiment [156 zrp] of the Ukrainian Air Force).[58][59][60] On the same day, the Donetsk People's Republic claimed possession of such a system in a since-deleted tweet.[59][61]

On 14 July, a Ukrainian Air Force An-26 transport plane flying at 21,000 ft (6,400 m) was shot down.[62][63] Militia reportedly claimed via social media that a Buk missile launcher had been used to bring down the aircraft.[64] American officials later said evidence suggested the aeroplane had been shot down from Russian territory.[65] On 16 July, a Sukhoi Su-25 close air support aircraft was shot down. The Ukrainian government said the Russian military had shot down the aircraft with an air-to-air missile fired by a MiG-29 jet in Russia; a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry rejected that report as "absurd".[66][67]

On 15 July, following his visit to Kiev, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski warned about the dangers posed by the continued Russian military support for pro-Russian separatists, especially ground-to-air missiles.[68] On the same day, an Associated Press journalist saw a Buk launcher in Snizhne, a town in Donetsk Oblast that is 16 kilometres (10 mi) southeast of the crash site. The reporter also saw seven separatist tanks at a petrol station near the town.[69] Associated Press journalists reported that the Buk M-1 was operated by a man "with unfamiliar fatigues and a distinctive Russian accent" escorted by two civilian vehicles.[70] The battle around Saur Mogila has been suggested as the possible context within which the missile that brought down MH17 was fired, as separatists deployed increasingly sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry in this battle, and had brought down several Ukrainian jets in July.[71]

The airspace above Donetsk Oblast was closed by Ukraine below 26,000 feet (7,900 m) on 1 July 2014 and, on 14 July, below 32,000 feet (9,800 m).[72][73] The route in Russian airspace that MH17 would have taken was closed below 32,000 feet (9,800 m) by Russian air control a few hours before the airliner took off.[74] As with other countries Ukraine receives overflight fees for every commercial aircraft that flies through their borders. This may have contributed to the continued availability of civilian flight paths through the conflict zone.[75][76]

According to Malaysia Airlines, MH17 filed an IFR flight plan requesting to fly at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m), but was directed to 33,000 feet (10,000 m).[77] The aircraft entered Ukrainian airspace climbing through 32,000 feet (9,800 m), and climbed to 33,000 feet (10,000 m) during its transition across the Kiev flight information region.[78]

Crash

Route of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Routes of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Singapore Airlines Flight 351, including airspace restrictions

On Thursday, 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 departed from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Gate G03 at 12:14 CEST (10:14 UTC)[79] and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 06:00, Friday 18 July MYT (22:00, 17 July UTC).

According to the original flight plan, MH17 was to fly over Ukraine at flight level 330 (33,000 feet or 10,060 metres) and then change to FL 350 around Dnipropetrovsk. When it reached the area as planned, at 12:53 UTC Dnipropetrovsk Air Control (Dnipro Control) asked MH17 if they could climb to FL 350 as planned, and also to avoid a potential separation conflict with another flight, Singapore Airlines Flight 351, also at FL 330. The crew asked to remain at FL 330 and the air control approved this request, moving the other flight to FL 350. At 13:00 UTC the crew asked for diversion of 20 NM to the left (north) due to weather conditions. This request was also approved by Dnipro Control. The crew then asked if they could climb to FL 340, which was rejected as this flight level was not available at that time, and MH17 remained at FL 330. At 13:19 UTC Dnipro Control noticed that the flight was 3.6 NM north from the centerline of approved track and instructed MH17 to return to the track. At 13:19 UTC Dnipro Control contacted Russian air control in Rostov-on-Don (RND) over telephone and requested clearance for transferring the flight to Russian air control. After obtaining the permission, Dnipro Control attempted to contact MH17 and pass them the details of Rostov-on-Don track at 13:20 UTC. After MH17 did not respond to several calls, Dnipro Control contacted RND again to check if they could see the Boeing on their radar. RND confirmed that the plane had disappeared.[2]

The Dutch Safety Board reported a last flight data recording at 13:20 UTC, located west of the urban-type settlement Rozsypne, heading 115° at 494 knots.[2] Three other commercial aircraft were in the same area when the Malaysian plane crashed including the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 and Air India Flight 113, a Boeing 787, the closest being 25 kilometres (16 mi) away.[80][81]

The aircraft crashed outside Hrabove, near Torez in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast, with debris spread over a 34 square kilometres (13 sq mi) area to the west and northwest of Hrabove.[82][83] The fireball on impact is believed to have been captured on video.[84] Photographs from the site of the crash show scattered pieces of broken fuselage and engine parts, bodies, and passports.[85] Some of the wreckage fell close to houses.[86] Dozens of bodies fell into crop fields, and some fell into houses.[87]

Aftermath

Around 90 minutes after the incident, Ukraine closed all routes in Eastern Ukrainian airspace, at all altitudes.[2][88] The incident dramatically heightened fears about airliner shootdowns,[89] leading to a number of airlines announcing they would avoid overflying conflict zones.

It was suggested that credit and debit cards may have been looted from the bodies of the victims, and the Dutch Banking Association said it would take "preventative measures" against any possible fraud.[90] There were also accusations that other possessions had been removed and that evidence at the crash site had been destroyed.[91][92] Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte acknowledged on 6 August that early reports of chaos and criminality around the site may have been exaggerated.[93] One eye-witness observed that valuable items like shoes and bottles of alcohol were untouched in the wreckage.[94]

Shortly after the crash, it was announced that Malaysia Airlines would retire flight number MH17 and change the Amsterdam–Kuala Lumpur route to flight number MH19 beginning on 25 July.[95][96] On 18 July 2014, shares in Malaysia Airlines dropped by nearly 16%.[97]

On 23 July, two Ukrainian military jets were hit by missiles at the altitude of 17,000 feet (5,200 m) close to the area of the MH17 crash. According to the Ukraine Security Council, preliminary information indicated that the missiles came from Russia.[98]

Investigation

Two parallel investigations are led by the Dutch. One is into the cause of the crash, and a second investigation is a criminal inquiry.[99] The investigation is expected to continue until August 2015.[100]

Initial attempts

On the day of the crash, a meeting was convened of the Trilateral Contact Group (consisting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Ukrainian national government, and Russia). After they had held a video conference with representatives of insurgents affiliated with the Donetsk People's Republic (who control the area where the aircraft crashed), the rebels promised to "provide safe access and security guarantees" to "the national investigation commission" by co-operating with Ukrainian authorities and OSCE monitors.[101] During the first two days of investigation, the militants prevented the OSCE and the workers of Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry from freely working at the crash site. Andre Purgin, a leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, declared later that "we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene as soon as Kiev concludes a ceasefire agreement".[102]

Dutch and Australian police at the crash site on 3 August 2014

On 18 July, it was reported that the flight recorders had been recovered by separatists.[103] On the same day, the head of Donetsk Regional State Administration, Kostiantyn Batozky, stated that both flight recorders had been found.[104] On 21 July, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that he had been told by Alexander Borodai, leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, that the black boxes would be handed over to Malaysian authorities.[105][106] Later that day, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder were handed over to Malaysian officials in Donetsk by rebels. The black boxes were examined at a facility operated by the UK AAIB.[107] On 23 July it was reported that the CVR was damaged but there was no evidence that it had been tampered with; it was also reported that authentic data had been downloaded.[108][109]

Since 23 July an international investigation team has been conducting an off-site examination to determine why the aircraft crashed.[2] In agreement with the Ukrainian government, the Netherlands are leading this investigation.[110][111] The investigation team consists of 24 investigators with members from Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.[112] In addition to the international accident investigation, the selection of the flight route will also be independently investigated by the Dutch Safety Board.[113] The National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine (NBAAI) had requested that the DSB participate in the international investigation; the DSB received formal notice of the accident from the NBAAI on 18 July.[114] The NBAAI, which lead an international off- and on-site investigation during the first days after the crash,[115] delegated the investigation to the DSB because of the large number of Dutch passengers and the fact that the flight originated in Amsterdam.[116]

A Malaysian team of 133 officials and experts, comprising search and recovery personnel, forensics experts, technical and medical experts arrived in Ukraine.[117] Australia sent a 45-member panel headed by former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who had earlier supervised the MH 370 probe.[118] The United Kingdom sent six investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and the UK Foreign Office has sent extra consular staff to Ukraine.[119] It took until late July that the full international team could start working at the crash site,[120] under the leadership of the Dutch Ministry of Defence.[121]

On 30 July, a Ukrainian representative said that pro-Russian rebels had mined approaches to the crash site and pulled heavy artillery around.[122]

On 6 August, the experts left the crash site due to concerns about their safety.[123] In mid-September they attempted to regain access to the site but did not have any success.[124][125] On 13 October a Dutch-Ukrainian team resumed the recovery work to gather personal belongings of the victims.[126] In mid-November, work was undertaken to remove part of the wreckage from the crash site. Earlier efforts by the recovery team to salvage the MH17 wreckage had been stalled over disagreements with the local rebels.[127][128] The recovery operation took one week to complete. The debris would be transported to the Netherlands where investigators will reconstruct parts of the plane.[129]

Cause of crash

A mobile Buk surface-to-air missile launcher, similar to that believed to have been used in the incident
External audio
Pro-Russian rebels discuss the shooting down of an aircraft on YouTube Intercepted phone calls, verified with voice recognition by the National Security Agency,[130] between rebels discussing which rebel group shot down the aircraft and initial reports it was a civilian aircraft. Audio (in Russian) released by Security Service of Ukraine with English subtitles.[131][132]

The cause of the crash has not yet been determined by the official investigation, which is being carried out by the Dutch Safety Board.[133] Both American and Ukrainian officials declared that a surface-to-air missile strike is the most likely cause,[134] and if so, then the missile was fired from a mobile Soviet-designed Buk missile system (NATO reporting name: SA-11 "Gadfly") as this is the only surface-to-air missile system in the region capable of reaching the altitude of commercial air traffic.[65][135][136][137][138][139] According to defence analyst Reed Foster (from Jane's Information Group), the contour of the aluminium and the blistering of the paint around many of the holes on the aircraft fragments indicate that small pieces of high-velocity shrapnel entered the aircraft externally, a damage pattern indicative of an SA-11.[140] Ballistics specialist Stephan Fruhling of the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre concurs with this, explaining that since it struck the cockpit rather than an engine it was probably a radar guided, rather than heat seeking, missile equipped with a proximity fuzed warhead such as a SA-11.[141]

Shortly after the crash, Igor Girkin, leader of the Donbass separatists, was reported to have posted on social media network VKontakte, taking credit for downing a Ukrainian AN-26. The separatists later recanted and denied involvement after learning that a civilian airliner had been downed, saying they did not have the equipment or training to hit a target at that altitude.[142][143][144]

Witnesses in Torez reported sightings on the day of the incident of what appeared to be a Buk missile launcher,[145] and AP journalists reported sightings of a Buk system in separatist controlled Snizhne.[70] The witness reports also backed up photographs and videos which had been posted online, of the Buk launcher in rebel held territory.[145]

On 19 July, Vitaly Nayda, the chief of the Counter Intelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), told a news conference, "We have compelling evidence that this terrorist act was committed with the help of the Russian Federation. We know clearly that the crew of this system were Russian citizens."[146][147][148] He cited what he said were recorded conversations in which separatists expressed satisfaction to Russian intelligence agents that they brought down an aeroplane.[149][150] While one of the involved persons acknowledged that these conversations took place, the separatists denied that they were related to the crash of MH17 and blamed the Ukrainian government for shooting it down.[151][152][153][154] According to Nayda, a Buk launcher used in the shootdown was moved back into Russia the night after the attack.[70] The SBU released another recording, which they said was of pro-Russian-separatist leader Igor Bezler being told of an approaching aircraft two minutes before MH17 was shot down. Bezler said the recording was real, but referred to a different incident.[155] The head of the SBU, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, later concluded that rebels intended to shoot down a Russian airliner in a false flag operation to give Russia a pretext to invade Ukraine, but shot down MH17 by mistake.[156][157]

Journalists from the Associated Press in Snizhne, Ukraine reported seeing a Buk M-1 enter the town operated by a man "with unfamiliar fatigues and a distinctive Russian accent" escorted by two civilian vehicles, which then moved off in the direction where the shootdown later occurred. According to Ukrainian counterterrorism chief, Vitaly Nayda, after downing the plane under separatist direction, the launcher's Russian crew quickly moved it back across the border into Russia.[70]

On 22 July, a soldier revealed to an Italian reporter that fellow separatists had told his unit the aircraft had been shot down under the assumption that it was Ukrainian.[158] This information was verified and confirmed on the same day by a German newspaper.[159] Unnamed American intelligence officials stated that sensors that traced the path of the missile, shrapnel patterns in the wreckage, voice print analysis of separatists' conversations in which they claimed credit for the strike, and photos and other data from social media sites all indicated that Russian-backed separatists had fired the missile.[5]

American officials said that satellite data from infrared sensors detected the explosion of flight MH17.[160] American intelligence agencies said that analysis of the launch plume and trajectory suggested the missile was fired from an area between Torez and Snizhne.[65] Satellites are also likely to have registered the heat signature of the launch of the missile and the activation of the missile launcher tracking radar.[136] The Telegraph, a British paper, said: "The Telegraph '​s own inquiries suggest the missile – an SA-11 from a Buk mobile rocket launcher – was possibly fired from a cornfield about 12 miles to the south of the epicentre of the crash site."[137] Other sources suggest the missile was launched from the separatist-controlled town of Chernukhino.[161] A number of other media outlets including The Guardian, The Washington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald have reported that the airplane is believed to have been downed by a rebel-fired missile.[162][163][164]

An unnamed American intelligence official stated that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 may have been shot down in error by pro-Russian separatists, citing evidence that separatists launched a SA-11 surface-to-air missile that blew up the Malaysian airliner. The official dismissed Russian allegations that MH17 took evasive action and said the claim that the Ukrainian government had shot down MH17 was not realistic, as Kiev had no such missile systems in that area, which was rebel-controlled.[138] American intelligence officials also said that Russia was attempting to disguise the flow of weaponry it was delivering to the rebels by sending older weapons that matched Ukraine's inventory.[5] The British Foreign Office stated that it was "highly likely" that the missile was fired from area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.[165]

The Russian Ministry of Defense has maintained that American claims of separatist responsibility were "unfounded", and said that the American intelligence agencies have not released any of the data on which they based their conclusions.[166] According to the Russian military, in what the New York Magazine called "Russia's Conspiracy Theory", MH17 was shot down by the Ukrainians, using either a surface to air missile or a fighter plane.[167][168]

On 21 July, the Russian Defence Ministry held a press conference and said that while the Boeing 777 was crashing, a Ukrainian Su-25 ground-attack aircraft approached to within 3 to 5 kilometres (1.9 to 3.1 mi) of the Malaysian airliner. The Ministry also stated that satellite photographs showed that the Ukrainian army moved a Buk SAM battery to the area close to the territory controlled by the rebels on the morning of 17 July, hours before the crash. They said the installation was then moved away again by 18 July.[169][170]

In an interview with Reuters on 23 July 2014, Alexander Khodakovsky, the commander of the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion, acknowledged that the separatists had an anti-aircraft missile of the type the Americans have said was used to shoot down the aircraft, and said that it could have been sent back to Russia to remove proof of its presence;[171][172][173] he later retracted his comments, saying that he had been misquoted and stating that rebels never had a Buk.[174] In November 2014 he repeated that the separatists had a Buk launcher at the time, but stated that the vehicle, under control of fighters from Luhansk, had still been on its way to Donetsk when MH17 crashed. It was then retreated to avoid being blamed.[175]

On 28 July, Ukrainian security official Andriy Lysenko announced, at a press conference, that black box recorder analysis had revealed that the aircraft had been brought down by shrapnel that caused "massive explosive decompression." Dutch officials were reported to be "stunned" by what they saw as a "premature announcement" and said that they had not provided this information.[176]

On 8 September, the BBC released new material by John Sweeney who cited three civilian witnesses from Donbass who have seen the "Buk" launcher in the rebel-controlled territory on the day when MH17 crashed. Two witnesses said the crew of the launcher and a military vehicle escorting it did not have local accents and spoke with Muscovite accents.[177] On the same day Igor Ostanin, a Russian journalist, published an analysis of photos and films of "Buk" units moving in Russia and Ukraine in the days before and after the MH17 crash. According to Ostanin, the markings on the specific launcher suspected of being used to shoot MH17, together with lorry registration plates suggest that it belongs to 53rd Kursk Brigade of Russian anti-aircraft defence troops.[178]

On 8 October the president of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) gave a presentation about MH17 to a German parliamentary committee overseeing intelligence activities. According to Der Spiegel, the report contained a detailed analysis which concluded that pro-Russian separatists had used a captured Ukrainian "Buk" system to shoot down Flight MH17. The report also noted that "Russian claims the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to the passenger jet were false." and that Ukraine had published manipulated photographs.[18][179] The Attorney General of Germany opened an investigation against unknown persons due to a suspected war crime.[19]

Recovery of bodies

First arrival of bodies at Eindhoven Airport

A Ukraine Foreign Ministry representative said that the bodies found at the crash site would be taken to Kharkiv for identification, a city 270 kilometres (170 mi) to the north. By the day after the crash, emergency workers said that 181 of the 298 bodies had been found.[180]

Al Jazeera reported that the separatist Minister of Health had initially confirmed 38 bodies had been moved to the Donetsk mortuary, which the minister subsequently recanted.[181] Bodies were observed being moved, placed in body bags, and loaded on to lorries.[182][183][184]

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte complained about the lack of respect shown to the personal belongings of the dead which were reportedly looted. He initially announced his disgust about the handling of the bodies of the casualties that were reportedly being "dragged around" and "thrown", but later stated the bodies were handled with more care than originally estimated.[185][186] On 20 July, Ukrainian emergency workers, observed by armed separatists, began loading the remains of the passengers of MH17 into refrigerated railway wagons for transport and identification.[187]

On 21 July, pro-Russian rebels allowed Dutch investigators to examine the bodies. By this time, according to Ukrainian officials 272 bodies had been recovered.[188] Remains left Torez on a train on the evening of 21 July, en route to Kharkiv to be flown to the Netherlands for identification.[105][189] On the same day, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Malaysian government had reached a tentative agreement to retrieve the remains of the Malaysians who died in the crash, following any necessary forensic work.[106][190]

Convoy of 40 hearses heading to Hilversum, while other traffic stopped

It was reported on 21 July that with 282 bodies and 87 body fragments found, there were still 16 bodies missing.[191] An agreement had been reached that the Netherlands will co-ordinate the identification effort. All remains were to be moved to the Netherlands with Dutch air force C-130 and Australian C-17 transport planes.[192][193] A train carrying the bodies arrived at the Malyshev Factory, Kharkiv on 22 July,[194] and the first remains were flown to Eindhoven on 23 July.[195] The investigation is conducted at the Netherlands Army medical regiment training facility in Hilversum by an international team.[196] The UK Metropolitan Police is liaising with international partners to send specialist officers to assist with the recovery, identification and repatriation of those who died.[119]

Dutch authorities stated on 23 July that they found 200 bodies on the train when it arrived at Kharkhiv, leaving almost 100 unaccounted for.[197] Two Dutch and one Australian aircraft flew the first bodies out of Kharviv later that day. The aircraft landed at Eindhoven Airport just before 16:00 local time.[198] The day after, another 74 bodies arrived.[199]

On 1 August it was announced that a search and recovery mission, including about 80 forensic police specialists from the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia, and led by Colonel Cornelis Kuijs of the Royal Marechaussee, would use drones, sniffer dogs, divers and satellite mapping to search for missing body parts at the crash site.[200][201] Australian officials had believed that as many as 80 bodies were still at the site,[163] but after some days of searching the international team had "found remains of only a few victims" and concluded that "the recovery effort undertaken by local authorities immediately after the crash was more thorough than initially thought."[93]

On 6 August the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the recovery operation would be temporarily halted due to an upsurge in fighting around the crash site threatening the safety of crash investigators and recovery specialists, and that all international investigators and humanitarian forces (approximately 500 Australians and 80 Dutch/Malaysians) would leave the country leaving behind a small communications and laison team.[202] Three areas of the crash site remained unsearched.

On 22 August the bodies of 20 Malaysians (of 43 Malaysians who were killed in the incident) arrived in Malaysia.[203] The government announced a National Mourning Day, with a ceremony broadcast live on radio and television.[204]

On 9 October a spokesman for the Dutch national prosecutor’s office stated that one victim was found with an oxygen mask around his neck and that a forensic investigation of the mask for fingerprints, saliva and DNA did not produce any results and that it is therefore not known how or when that mask got around the neck of the victim.[205]

By 5 December, the Dutch-led forensic team had identified the bodies of 292 out of 298 victims of the crash.[206]

Preliminary report

On 9 September 2014, the preliminary accident report was released by the Security Council of the Netherlands (Dutch Safety Board).[2][30]

The preliminary report concluded that the aircraft and crew prior to the ending of the CVR and FDR recording at 13.20:03 hrs (UTC) were not implicating any technical or operational failure, due to the absence of any corresponding evidence. Furthermore, the report said that "damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft". According to the investigators, this damage likely led to a loss of structural integrity that caused an in-flight breakup first of the forward parts of the aircraft and then the remainder with expansive geographic spread of the aircraft's pieces.

Tjibbe Joustra, Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, explained on the release date of the preliminary report that the investigation thus far "point towards an external cause of the MH17 crash", but determining the exact cause of the crash requires further investigation and investigators will be able to use "additional evidence" to produce the final report. The Board's press release for the preliminary report also established a time frame for the final report: "The Board aims to publish the report within one year of the date of the crash."[207]

Families of twenty of the 298 victims have asked for an international investigation by the UN because they claim the Netherlands “has completely botched” the investigation.[208]

Criminal investigation

The criminal investigation into the downing of MH17 is being led by the Public Prosecution Service of the Dutch Ministry of Justice. The investigation is the largest in Dutch history, involving dozens of prosecutors and 200 investigators with different specialties.[209] Detectives are looking at forensic samples from bodies and luggage, interviews with witnesses, satellite data, intercepted communications, and information on the Web. Of particular interest to investigators are 25 pieces of iron; investigators are trying to establish whether or not they came from a surface to air missile.[210][211][212][213][214][215]

Participating in the investigation along with The Netherlands, are the 4 other members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT),[216] Belgium, Ukraine, Australia, and Malaysia.[217] Malaysia was the last to join the JIT, being accepted as a full member in late November.[216][218]

Reactions

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the crash the result of an act of terrorism, and also called for an international investigation into the crash.[219]

Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Hamzah Zainuddin said that the foreign ministry would be working with the Russian and Ukrainian governments with regard to the incident.[220] Prime Minister Najib Razak later said that Malaysia was unable to verify the cause of the crash and demanded that the perpetrators be punished.[221] The Malaysian government flew the national flag at half-mast from 18 July until 21 July.[222]

Flag at half mast in front of city hall of Hoorn during the national day of mourning on 23 July

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and King Willem-Alexander voiced their shock at the crash,[223][224] and Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans joined the Dutch investigation team sent to Ukraine.[225] Dutch government buildings flew the flag at half-mast on 18 July.[226] Music was cancelled and festivities were toned down on the last day of the Nijmegen Marches.[227] On 21 July the Netherlands opened a war crimes investigation on the downing of the aircraft. The country's prosecutor is in Ukraine for that purpose. Rutte threatened tough action against Russia if it did not help in the investigation.[228]

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in an address to parliament that the aircraft was downed by a missile which seems to have been launched by Russian-backed rebels.[229] Julie Bishop, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, said in an interview on an Australian television programme that it was "extraordinary" that her Russian counterparts have refused to speak to her over the shootdown after the Russian ambassador was summoned to meet her.[229] The Russian government was critical of Abbott's response; Abbott was one of the first world leaders to publicly connect the shootdown to Russia.[230] Abbott later criticized the recovery efforts as "shambolic", and "more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation"; Bishop publicly warned separatist forces against treating the victims' bodies as hostages.[231] Abbott also said in an interview on 13 October 2014, in anticipation of Russia's President Vladimir Putin's attendance at the 2014 G20 summit, scheduled for mid-November 2014 in Brisbane, Australia: "Australians were murdered. They were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment. We are very unhappy about this."[232]

Russian President Putin said that Ukraine bears responsibility for the incident which happened in its territory, which he said would not have happened if hostilities had not resumed in the south-east of Ukraine.[3][233][234] He also said that it was important to refrain from making any hasty conclusions and politicized statements before the end of the investigation. He said that Russia would help an international inquiry led by the ICAO.[235] By end of July a Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev said in an interview for German Die Welt that there's no doubts that it was the separatists who shot down the plane by mistake and "Putin now understood that he has passed the weapon to wrong people".[236]

United States President Barack Obama said the United States would help determine the cause.[3] In a press statement, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine to allow for a full investigation.[237] Vice-President Joe Biden said the plane appeared to have been deliberately shot down, and offered American assistance for the investigation into the crash.[234] American Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called on Russia to end the war.[238] The British government requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council and called an emergency Cobra meeting after the incident.[239][240] Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey has said that instead of backing away from supporting the rebels in the wake of the airline tragedy, Putin had "actually taken a decision to escalate."[241]

Commenting on the response by the German government to questions about what military intelligence the government has on the downing of MH17, Alexander Neu, New Left Party MP and chairman of the Defence Committee, said, "The federal government has no knowledge of whether MH17 was shot in the Ukraine, and especially of which belligerent shot it down." "Thus, there is blame based on wild speculation based on wishful thinking, and above all on political interests hostile to Russia."[242]

Commander of the Donbass People's Militia Igor Girkin was quoted as stating that "a significant number of the bodies weren't fresh". He followed up by saying "Ukrainian authorities are capable of any baseness"; and also said that blood serum and medications were found in the plane's remnants in large quantities.[243][244]

The European Union's representatives José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy released a joint statement calling for immediate and thorough investigation.[245] The EU officials also said that Ukraine has first claim on the plane's black boxes.[246]

The International Civil Aviation Organization declared that it was sending its team of experts to assist the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine (NBAAI), under Article 26 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation.[247] The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2166 on 21 July, regarding an official crime investigation into the incident. On 24 July 2014 the ICAO issued a State Letter reminding signatory states of their responsibilities with respect to the safety and security of civil aircraft operating in airspace affected by conflict.[248]

A makeshift memorial at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Netherlands, for victims of flight MH17

After the crash, memorial services were held in Australia[249] and in the Netherlands, which declared 23 July, the day when the first victims arrived in the country, a national day of mourning, the first since 1962.[250][251] The opening ceremony of the AIDS 2014 conference, of which several delegates were on board flight MH17, began with a tribute to the victims of the crash.[252] In Malaysia, makeshift memorials were created in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.[253]

A poem on the subject, "Requiem for MH-17" was written and broadcast by Andrei Orlov. In the poem he declared himself, along with all other Russian public, responsible for shooting down the plane.[254]

Russian media coverage

Media coverage of the crash in Russia has differed from coverage in other worldwide media.[255][256] On 22 July an unnamed American official said that the Russian government was manipulating the media towards Russia's version of the story.[5]

The Russian government-funded[257] outlet RT initially said that the plane may have been shot down by Ukraine in a failed attempt to assassinate Vladimir Putin, in a plot which was organized by Ukraine's "Western backers".[258] Other theories propagated by Russian media include: that the Ukrainians shot down the plane in a botched attempt at mass murder of Russian citizens; that Ukrainian air traffic controllers purposefully redirected the flight to fly over the war zone; and that the Ukrainian government organized the attack on the plane to bring infamy upon the pro-Russian rebels.[259]

According to the poll conducted by the Levada Center between 18 and 24 July 80% of Russians surveyed believed that the crash of MH17 was caused by the Ukrainian military. Only 3% of respondents to the poll blamed the disaster on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.[260][261][262]

Sara Firth, a correspondent with RT, for which she had worked over the previous five years, resigned in protest at the channel's coverage which she described as "shockingly obvious misinformation".[263] RT issued a statement after Firth went public with reasons for her resignation, saying "we were not surprised by Sara Firth's decision to leave RT after five years as a Moscow and London correspondent, as she has recently informed us that she was likely to take an offer from another firm".[264]

On 25 July, the liberal Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a bold headline in Dutch that read "Vergeef ons, Nederland" ("Forgive Us, Netherlands").[265][266]

On 15 November, Russia's Channel One reported on a supposedly leaked spy satellite photo which shows the plane being shot from behind by a Ukrainian fighter jet.[267][268] Many other Russian media reprinted the photo. The authenticity of the photo was quickly debunked by online commentators, using supporting evidence.[269] The photo had been emailed to the Vice President of the Russian Union of Engineers by a self-described aviation expert who had found it on a Russian online forum.[270] The aviation expert apologized to those "unintentionally misled or disappointed" for the use of the information stating that he "had no knowledge or means of proving and researching if this was an authentic satellite photo or not" and that he was unhappy that the "informal attempt possibly became a source of yet another battle in a media war" saying the members of the Russian media organization "are either desperate or totally unprofessional".[270]

Maps

Location of crash site; departure and destination airports
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Crash site
Crash site
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Location of departure, crash site and destination
Location of departure and crash site
Amsterdam Airport
Amsterdam Airport
Crash site
Crash site
Location of departure and crash site
Presumed route ending in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels[74][h]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ MH is the IATA designator and MAS is the ICAO designator. The flight is also marketed as KLM Flight 4103 (KL4103) through a codeshare agreement.[1]
  2. ^ The aircraft is a Boeing 777-200ER (for Extended Range) model; Boeing assigns a unique customer code for each company that buys one of its aircraft, which is applied as an infix in the model number at the time the aircraft is built. The code for Malaysia Airlines is "H6", hence "777-2H6ER".
  3. ^ Dual Canadian-Romanian citizen boarding with Canadian passport.
  4. ^ Including:
    • 1 dual German-Dutch citizen
  5. ^ 28 passengers and 15 crew
  6. ^ Including:
    • 1 dual Dutch-Belgian citizen;
    • 1 dual Dutch-Israeli citizen;
    • 1 dual Dutch-Italian citizen;
    • 1 dual Dutch-American citizen
  7. ^ Including:
    • 1 dual British-South African citizen; and
    • 1 dual British-New Zealand citizen.
  8. ^ "A United States official said the missile that shot down the plane was launched from a region near the towns of Torez and Snizhne"[238]

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