Russia Responsible for MH17 Shoot-Down
On the 17th of July in 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down while flying over eastern Ukraine, on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER, registration 9M-MRD. There were 15 crew and 283 passengers on board, making this the deadliest airliner shootdown in history. The passengers were primarily Dutch, Malaysian and Australian.
The crash site was in Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine. Ukraine had closed the airspace above Donetsk Oblast below 26,000 feet a month before. Three days before the accident, they raised the ceiling, closing the airspace up to flight level 320 (32,000 feet). Although extreme caution was advised for areas south of the Boeing’s route that day, most airlines continued to overfly eastern Ukraine.
On the 17th of July, a few hours before Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down, Russian ATC issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airman) closing Russian airspace up to FL530 (53,000 feet) over the Rostov FIR, citing the armed conflict in Ukraine. It’s a bit odd, as the NOTAM actually refers to two altitudes, FL320, matching the Ukrainian restrictions, and FL530, which is much higher. The Russian Federation declined to give an explanation for this airspace restriction when asked by investigators.
Two investigations were launched: the first into the technical cause of the crash and second as a criminal investigation.
Normally the investigation would be led by the country in which the accident occurred, so in this case by the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine. However in August 2014, Ukraine delegated the leadership of both investigations to the Dutch Safety Board, based on the fact that the flight originated in Amsterdam and that there were a large number of Dutch passengers on the flight. Malaysian and Australian teams were also dispatched to Ukraine for support.
The technical investigation released its final report on the 13th of October in 2015. The investigation found that the crash was caused by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile with a 9N314M warhead.
The crash of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 was caused by the detonation of a 9N314M-type warhead launched from the eastern part of Ukraine using a Buk missile system. So says the investigation report published by the Dutch Safety Board today. Moreover, it is clear that Ukraine already had sufficient reason to close the airspace over the eastern part of Ukraine as a precaution before 17 July 2014. None of the parties involved recognised the risk posed to overflying civil aircraft by the armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine.
The warhead detonated to the left and above the cockpit, blasting the aircraft with hundreds of high-energy objects (shrapnel).
The flight crew were killed instantly. The aircraft, or what remained of it, continued forward for about 8.5 kilometres before breaking up completely. Investigators collected the wreckage over 50 square km area, along with missile fragments which were identified as from a 9M38 series surface-to-air missile.
A reconstruction of the trajectory of the missile limited the launch location to within a 320 square km (120 sq mi) area in eastern Ukraine. Exactly where the missile was launched and by whom is of course outside of the scope of an aviation investigation; however this quickly became the focus on the criminal investigation, which is still in progress.
That investigation is led by the Netherlands Public Prosector’s Office and the Dutch National Police, along with the police and judicial authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. This Joint Investigation Team (JIT) consists of over 200 investigators. The JIT has released a number of documents and interim reports, including confirmation that that the aircraft was shot down with a 9M38 Buk missile and the location (a field near Pervomaisky, south of Snizhne, held by pro-Russian separatists). They identified the Buk missile system used and asked for witnesses who had seen the launcher being delivered to the field.
Yesterday, the JIT released a report with an explanatory video, proving that the Buk had been transported from Russia into Ukraine in a convoy from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade in Kursk. The video is very clear and easy to follow and I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.
Tony Abbott, who was the Australian Prime Minister at the time of the crash, said that the report confirmed what he’d believed.
In the Sydney Morning Herald:
“There is now a very heavy onus on President Putin and Russia to apologise abjectly and make restitution to the families of those who have been killed.
“If Russia continues to deny responsibility it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that it has become a rogue state.”
The Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimr Putin, responded that Russia will only acknowledge the JIT conclusion for analysis if Russia is made a party in the investigation.
The Russian Ministry of Defence has already publicly rejected the report, maintaining that the missle was launched from territory held by the Ukranian Armed Forces (that is, the government of Ukraine).
“Not a single anti-aircraft missile system of the Russian Armed Forces has ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border,” the defense ministry said in statement.
The Russian military raised eyebrows over “the determination of the Dutch-led investigation to justifying its conclusions by solely using images from social networks that have been expertly altered with computer graphic editing tools.”
The Russian side said that it provided the international probe with “comprehensive” evidence, including field tests, which “clearly indicate the involvement of the Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft system units” in the destruction of the plane with 283 passengers and 15 crew members onboard.
As of now, the criminal investigation is still in progress. The JIT says their investigators have identified one hundred people involved in the movement of the launcher. They are appealing for any information on the crew of the convoy, in the hopes of determining what orders were given and by whom.