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Dutch Safety Board blames Russian-made missile for Flight MH17 Disaster

The Dutch Safety Board confirmed Tuesday what many had suspected since the crash – a Russian made Buk anti-air missile shot down the Flight MH17 – killing all 298 people on board. The missile hit the front left portion of the plane causing other parts to break off on impact, according to the findings of the Dutch investigation into the July 2014 disaster. The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) said whatever happened to the Malaysian Airlines MH17 happened quickly, leaving the passengers dazed or unconscious. And while it’s unclear if anyone died midair, no one could have survived the crash, at least not with that kind of impact with ground, the DSB said.

“Flight MH17 crashed as a result of the detonation of a warhead outside the airplane,” DSB Chairman Tjibbe Joustra said at a press conference at the Gilze Rijen airbase in the Netherlands.

Dutch officials have been working for almost 15 months on the investigation into the crash of Flight MH17. The Boeing 777 was heading from Amsterdam to Malaysia, when it disappeared over Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The airliner lost contact about 50km from the Ukraine-Russia border and crashed near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, with debris spread over a 50 square kilometers area to the southwest of Hrabove. Photographs from the crash site showed scattered pieces of broken fuselage and engine parts, bodies and passports. Dozens of bodies fell into crop fields while some fell into houses.   

The final milliseconds of the cockpit voice recorder captured sound peaks from the blast that investigators were able to use to triangulate the position of the explosion. Three of the 15 crew members were reportedly inside the cockpit during the explosion and were killed immediately. The crew was all Malaysian and about two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch, while many of the other passengers were Australians and Malaysians. Among the passengers were delegates en roué to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne including a former president of the International AIDS Society. At least twenty family groups were on board, and eighty of the passengers were teenagers.

Soon after the crash both American and Ukrainian officials said that a surface-to-air missile was most likely the cause, and if so, then the missile was likely fired from a mobile Soviet-designed Buk missile system – the only surface-to-air missile system in the region capable of reaching the altitude of commercial air traffic. The safety board report also investigated the possibility that the flight was downed by a bomb on board the plane or due to an attack by another aircraft, as some rebels have claimed, but rejected these suggestions later. Also telling, the missiles fired by Buk launchers leave distinctive bow-tie shaped fragments, which were found throughout the crash site.

Mr. Joustra also said there had been sufficient reason to close off Ukrainian airspace but Ukraine did not do that. On the day of the crash, 160 flights flew over conflict-stricken eastern Ukraine. He said pro-Russian rebels were in charge of the area from where the missile that hit MH17 had been fired. In the report, the Dutch Safety Board said the weapon used for the attack was a 9N314M warhead carried on the 9M38M1 missile, as launched by a Buk surface-to-air missile system, referring to Russian military technology. But Russian officials who participated in the investigation said it was not possible the warhead or type of system.

The Russian side argued that only older warheads and missiles of the 9M38 type still in the hands of the Ukrainian army could have been used as they were the only weapons with ‘bow-tie’ fragments. The Russian manufacturer of Buk missile systems, Almaz-Antey, said its own testing and calculations also threw doubt on the DSB’s report. “The 9M38M1 missile has no H-shaped striking elements,” Yan Novikov, the head of Almaz-Antey said. The Russian government later Tuesday argued that the DBS ignored Almaz-Antey’s conclusions about the crash, and questioned the transparency of the investigation.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, in response, said the plane was “shot down from Russian-controlled territory from Russian weaponry,” in a quote posted to his official website. “Dutch investigators cannot reveal the surnames of criminals. It should be done by the international tribunal.”

The Dutch Safety Board report, however, does not go as far as to identify who fired the missile, instead noting the make and model of the weapon and the area from where it was fired which was reportedly held by Russian-backed separatists at the time. Considering that Ukrainians would have known it was civilian traffic because they controlled the airspace, they probably had no reason to shoot it down, which leaves either Russian-backed local militias or the Russian army that officially wasn’t there. What’s official is US blamed Russia, and the Russians blamed the Ukraine – no matter who’s blaming who, no one is getting convicted regardless what the results are.