MH17 Report Confirms Missile Damage Despite Missing Key Pieces of Debris, Launch Site Still Unknown
The Dutch Safety Board has released the results of its investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which was likely shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The report concludes that the plane broke up in mid-air after a BUK M1 surface-to-air missile exploded near the cockpit. This caused the airplane to break apart immediately and the wreckage covered an area of about 50 square kilometers.
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The Dutch Safety Board was allowed to lead the investigation by the new Ukrainian government officials in Kiev. Most of the 298 people killed on board were Dutch nationals as the flight originated in Amsterdam.
In July 2014, the missile launch was immediately blamed on pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine as the White House and US-backed government in Kiev claimed the missile could only have been launched from an area controlled by rebels.
Dutch Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra could only say that it happened “from within an area of 320 square kilometers from the east of the Ukraine”. Joustra noted more forensic investigative work was needed to determine the launch site, but said it falls “outside of the scope of the Dutch Safety Board’s mandate”, referring to the concurrent investigation into suspects responsible which is performed by the Joint Investigation Team. The Joint Investigation Team includes the Netherlands Public Prosecutor’s Office and Dutch National Police working together with “police and judicial authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine” according to the JIT website.
The report claims the missile exploded to the “left and above the cockpit” and the forward section of the aircraft was hit by hundreds of high energy fragments. The report has also ruled out gunfire and air-to-air missiles, noting that the damage patterns and fragments found in the wreckage were indicative of the BUK surface-to-air missiles.
The total number of hits (over 350), of all types of impact damage, on the available wreckage of the cockpit suggests that the total number of hits of high-energy objects was well over 800. The highest density of hits on the left hand side of the cockpit was calculated to be over 250 hits per square metre. The highest density of hits was on the left front window.
The report reached this conclusion despite missing many significant pieces of the plane near the damaged area. Pieces of the debris were photographed in front of a green screen and catalogued. Later, a frame was built to mimic the Boeing 777, and the fuselage was reconstructed with the recovered debris.
Significant pieces of the airplane were not recovered until over 1 year later, confirmed by local news reports.
In July 2015, a documentary filmed by RT called “MH17: A year without truth”, also showed many pieces of debris that remained unrecovered by investigators. Some of these pieces included critical portions of the cockpit roof which are missing from the reconstructed model used in the investigation. According to RT, a spokesperson from the Dutch Safety Board contacted them in August 2015 about the debris reported in the film because the board was not aware of the location.
The Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the crash, had no knowledge of the fragments until an RT documentary titled “MH17: A year without truth” was broadcast in July 2015.
The film showed fragments of the crashed Boeing and pieces of luggage still scattered in the area at the time of filming. The RTD crew collected the parts of the plane’s exterior they spotted, and took them to authorities in the nearby town of Petropavlovsk.
Following the release of the film, Dutch Safety Board spokesperson Sara Vernooij contacted RT.
“With great interest we watched your documentary, ‘MH17: A year without truth,’” she wrote to RT. “In this film, RT shows parts of the cockpit roof which were found near Petropavlivka. We would like to gather those pieces and bring them over to the Netherlands so the Dutch Safety Board can use them for the investigation and the reconstruction.”
More than 500 pieces of wreckage were transferred to the investigating team on September 30, 2015 by officials of the independent Donetsk region, in the presence of OSCE representatives.
While the report concluded that the damage was caused by a 9N314M warhead from a BUK surface-to-air missile, but this does not prove who is responsible. Although this is a Russian made weapon, there are multiple versions of the system manufactured by Almaz-Antey. Both the Ukrainian military and the pro-Russian separatists are said to be in possession of the missiles.
The report notes the different types, including the 9M38M1 missile which is one type used by Ukrainian military forces.
Almaz-Antey claims the Ukraine military had nearly 1000 of the missiles as recently as 2005, and had likely been maintained.
Almaz-Antey has evidence that hundreds of BUK-M1 air defense missile systems and their accompanying missiles were still deployed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces as of 2005, the company’s head engineer, Mikhail Malyshev, told reporters on Tuesday. According to the manufacturer, Kiev had a total of 991 9M38M1 missiles at that time, and information available to Almaz-Antey suggested that they had been maintained by Ukraine’s military.
Almaz-Antey also released the results of experiments conducted to simulate damage from BUK missiles, noting that if Flight MH17 was struck by a BUK missile, it was likely an older model.
Late in July the first full-scale experiment was conducted. Then a BUK 9M38M1 missile and aluminum panels were used.
“In the course of the experiment it became absolutely evident that if the Malaysian Boeing was downed by a BUK missile, it was done with an old BUK model which does not have double-T iron strike elements,” CEO Yan Novikov told a media conference in Moscow.
The outcome of the experiment was sent over to the Dutch investigators, however, “according to what we know was not taken into consideration,” Novikov said.
Russian officials have disputed the claims of a missile from the beginning, publishing satellite images claiming to show Ukrainian military systems in the area and released military data claiming a Ukrainian fighter jet tracking the plane before the crash.
This was corroborated by a BBC report near the crash site in the days after, that report has since been removed from BBC accounts on Youtube however has been re-posted. The report shows interviews of local citizens claiming there was a military jet in the air before and after the crash. The report goes on to note that Ukrainian jets had made a habit of flying under civilian aircraft as a tactic.
Other claims have noted that key pieces of debris have inconsistent characteristics, including holes in the aircraft skin was bent out by projectiles, indicating exit holes in the same pieces where holes are bent inwards, a result of projectile entry. Some independent analyses of the crash have attempted to confirm this.
Sunday, it was reported that on September 16, Russia appealed to the United Nations aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to intervene in the investigation, saying that the Dutch experts in charge are ignoring evidence. The missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey had declassified the specifications of the similar weapons systems 9M38 and 9M38M1, to provide more clarity for the investigation.
One of Russia’s biggest concerns centred on the DSB’s approach to the probe, which Storchevoy claimed violated one of the basic principles of air accident investigations, known as the principle of sequence of conclusions.
In the letter, Storchevoy said that instead of studying the nature of the damage to the aircraft’s front fuselage and then arriving at a logical and final conclusion, the DSB sets, from the get go, to prove that the aircraft was destroyed by a BUK missile, launched from a location given right after the incident.
“This is before any research into the characteristics of the warhead which brought down the plane was done. Basic data and methods of identifying where the missile was fired from were also not explained by the DSB.”
The letter also stated that during two separate meetings with the DSB, detailed information on the 9M38 and 9M38M1 surface-to-air missile systems was provided to the probe team by the designer and manufacturer of the BUK SA-11, JSC Almaz-Antey Corporation. These included technical specs, flight and ballistics characteristics, launch parameters, algorithms governing the detonator and characteristics of the warhead. The DSB was also given the results of a warhead detonation test under controlled conditions to determine shrapnel dispersal patterns and what fragments of the missile could have impacted the fuselage.
Kiev has been criticized for allowing flights through the region even though they had already closed the civilian airspace below 32,000 feet.
“In the months before the crash, at least 16 military airplanes and helicopters were shot down in the eastern part of Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities were aware of this. They stated that, occasionally, weapon systems were used that could reach the cruising altitude of civil airliners. Yet, despite of all this, Ukraine did not close its airspace,” said Tjibbe Joustra, Dutch Safety Board chairman.
Flight MH17 was shot down at approximately 10,000 meters, the highest plane shot down before that was aropund 6300 meters.
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