The Dutch Safety Board has published a report on the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, concluding that the plane was brought down last July by a missile launched from eastern Ukraine. The profile of the warhead matches the Russian-made Buk rocket system – a conclusion disputed by Russian officials.
As CNN reports, the Dutch Safety Board investigated at the request of the Ukrainian government, which is still fighting Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. It has long been speculated that MH17 was destroyed by a Buk rocket provided to the separatists by the Russian military. The rebels, and their Russian patrons, counter by accusing Ukraine of launching the missile. Investigators calculated the trajectory of the missile and narrowed the launch site down to a 320 square kilometer area of eastern Ukraine.
Another theory occasionally floated to explain the attack is that drunken separatist fighters were fooling around with a Buk launch system and targeted the civilian jet liner without quite realizing what they were doing. Ukraine flatly rejected this scenario after the Dutch Safety Board report was released. “In our opinion it was carried out solely from territory controlled by Russian fighters and there is no doubt that drunken separatists are not able to operate Buk systems and this means these systems were operated solely by professional Russian soldiers,” said Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, as quoted by Australia’s News.com.
Russian officials participating in the investigation insisted there was not enough evidence to positively identify the weapon used in the attack.
CNN quotes Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte insisting that the perpetrators of the attack must not “avoid punishment,” and calling upon the Russians to cooperate fully with the ongoing criminal investigation, which is expected to produce a full report before the end of the year. The Dutch Safety Board criticized the Russians for failing to produce comprehensive radar data about the flight, saying they had no excuse for not preserving such records and handing them over to investigators.
The incident, and Russia’s conduct during the investigation, have reportedly soured relations between the Netherlands and Russia. One-hundred ninety-six of the 298 passengers killed aboard MH17 were citizens of the Netherlands.
The Dutch Safety Board’s description of Flight 17’s final moments is terrifying. After the warhead detonated outside the cockpit and instantly killed three crew members with shrapnel, the rest of the passengers were exposed to many “extreme” factors, including “abrupt deceleration and acceleration, decompression and associated mist formation, decrease in oxygen level, extreme cold, strong airflow, the aeroplane’s very rapid descent and objects flying around.”
The blast was powerful enough to tear the cockpit away from the rest of the aircraft. According to the report, the missile detonated only a few meters away from the cockpit, close enough to make its detonation clearly audible in cockpit recordings.
“The Dutch Safety Board did not find any indications of conscious actions performed by the occupants after the missile’s detonation. It is likely that the occupants were barely able to comprehend the situation in which they found themselves,” said the report, which was presented with a reconstruction of the plane’s forward structure, clearly showing where shrapnel tore through the fuselage.
The chairman of the board, Tjibbe Joustra, had criticism for all parties involved in the incident, including the Ukrainian government, for allowing the plane to fly over a conflict zone. He said none of them “recognized the risks posed to civil aviation by the armed conflict on the ground.” He added the chilling detail that some 160 more flights were allowed to pass through the region after MH17 was shot down.
News.com reports that relatives of the victims were briefed privately by Joustra at the Hague before the public release, emerging from the session “visibly shaken” and overcome by a “wave of sadness.”
The Russians have responded by saying they did not preserve full radar data of the shooting because it occurred outside their airspace. After the Dutch Safety Board report was released, a Russian state-controlled arms manufacturer called Almaz-Antey claimed to have performed experiments that proved the warhead was not a Buk– at least, not a current generation of the weapon system, although the company said it could have been one of the older Buk systems used by the Ukrainian military. For good measure, Almaz-Antey claimed to have evidence that the missile was launched from a village that was under the control of the Ukrainian government.
The video below summarizes the Dutch Safety Board’s findings, and recreates the destruction of the plane with computer graphics.