Moscow – The Dutch Safety Board has presented the results of its probe into the crash of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014 that killed all 298 people aboard, saying the plane was shot down by an air defense missile. The investigators identified the type of weapon, the Soviet-designed Buk missile, but they stopped short of saying who pulled the trigger.
The Dutch Safety Board said the missile was launched from an area of 320 square kilometers in eastern Ukraine, which was engulfed by fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed rebels. Ukraine said the missile was fired by the rebels or Russian troops backing them, while Moscow rejected the accusations and said that the Ukrainian military was to blame. A separate criminal probe by Dutch prosecutors will now have to determine the culprits. It is going to last at least through the next year.
According to the report, the missile exploded just one meter above the Boeing 777’s cockpit with deadly accuracy, sending hundreds of steel fragments through the nose of the plane, instantly killing the pilots and breaking the jet apart.
The airflow blew through the broken plane’s fuselage at tornado-like speed, stripping some of the victims naked and turning their belongings into deadly projectiles. The investigators said that some of the passengers could have remained conscious for 60 to 90 seconds it took the jet to slam into the ground. Residents of the village of Hrabove, around which most bodies and crash fragments fell, still shudder as they remember body fragments and shards of metal showering on their yards.
The Dutch report held Ukraine responsible for failing to close its airspace to civilian flights even though fighting in eastern Ukraine already had been going for months before the MH17 disaster. Several Ukrainian military aircraft have been shot down by rebels in the weeks prior to the MH17 crash, yet commercial flights via the Ukrainian airspace continued.
Part of the reason for that was political: closing the airspace would have amounted to the Ukrainian government’s recognition that it effectively lost control over part of the nation’s territory, something it was reluctant to do for domestic policy reasons.
There was also a money issue involved: Ukraine was getting transit fees from carriers using its airspace, a steady source of income for the nation mired in deep economic crisis. The Dutch Safety board noted that a Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down in the area just days before the MH17 went down, and a Ukrainian fighter jet was downed in the same area just a day before the Malaysian Airlines disaster. “Our investigation showed that all parties regarded the conflict in eastern part of Ukraine from a military perspective. Nobody gave any thought of a possible threat to civil aviation,” Dutch Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said.
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