After fifteen months of investigation, investigators have reached the conclusion that Malaysia Flight 17 was downed by a Russian-made missile – most likely one fired from Ukraine.
Their report was presented Tuesday at Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the Netherlands.
The plane, a Boeing 777, went down July 14, 2014, after flying over the area where there was ongoing fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists. In its final report, the Dutch Safety Board was highly critical of authorities for failing to close the airspace over the conflict zone. Reportedly, some 160 civil aviation flights flew through it on the day of the crash.
The five-nation study team sifted through tons of wreckage and human remains to determine the cause. They were able to reconstruct the aircraft and found a distinctive shrapnel pattern in the cockpit.
“Flight MH17 crashed as a result of the detonation of a warhead outside the airplane above the left-hand side of the cockpit,” according to Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board. It’s been determined that the explosion tore off the forward section, causing the aircraft to break up in midair.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed, some instantly and others losing consciousness first. The board concluded “It is likely that the occupants were barely able to comprehend their situation.”
The findings do not assign blame for the crash, but Dutch prosecutors may pursue the theory promoted by authorities in the United States and Ukraine that the plane was shot down by an SA-11, or Buk, surface-to-air missile launcher fired by the separatist forces.
The board said it had extracted butterfly-shaped shrapnel from the body of a pilot. From that, they were able to identify the type of warhead used: 9N314M, which is typically utilized in arming two common variants of the Buk, the 9M38 and the 9M38-M1.
Based upon the impact pattern, the impact angle and other data, the Dutch Safety Board believes that the missile came from a specific area of eastern Ukraine. Russian and Ukrainian experts differ on exactly where, with Russia making its own presentation the same day, saying it must have come from Ukraine territory because it’s of a type no longer in the Russian arsenal.
“This is not true,” responded Nick de Larrinaga, the European editor of IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. He said that both Buk types and their launchers had been displayed during Russian military parades and exercises in recent years.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either arming the separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine or shooting down the Malaysia Airlines flight. But Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, said, “We are convinced it was carried out solely from territory controlled by pro-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.”
Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, a country that had 43 citizens on the plane, concluded that “we now know that the plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine.”
In addition to studying the causes of the crash, the Dutch report investigated reasons for the delay in confirming the identities of those on board – in some cases, as long as 14 days – and shortcomings in systems that governments use to communicate risks to commercial airliners flying over conflict zones.