A new report on the Malaysian Airlines MH-17 downing confirms that the plane was hit — and 298 people killed — “by the detonation of a model 9N314M warhead, fitted to a 9M38-series missile that was fired from a Buk surface-to-air missile system.”
The plane was flying over Donetsk, Ukraine, controlled by Russia-backed separatists. The Buk missile system is Russian-made.
The Dutch report — 193 passengers were from the Netherlands, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur — secondarily studied whether the pilots were adequately warned about flying over a war zone, and found that “none of the parties involved adequately identified the risks to civil aviation brought about by the armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine.”
At the time of the July 2014 crash, four notices to airmen about airspace over Ukraine were “relevant” to MH-17.
“At 13.20:03 the aircraft was penetrated by hundreds of high energy objects that originated from a warhead, model 9N314M, fired from a Buk surface to air missile system. This has been established on the basis of, among other things, the altitude at which the aircraft was hit, the damage pattern on the wreckage and the particles found in the wreckage and in the bodies of three of the crew members,” the report summary states.
“…The investigation revealed that the missile approached the aircraft almost head on, in the direction of the upper left hand side of the aeroplane. The warhead exploded to the left of the cockpit.”
The three crew members in the cockpit were killed instantly, the report found, noting a “large number of fragments” from the warhead in their bodies. The cockpit and floor of business class tore off and crashed right away, while the rest of the plane flew for more than five miles while breaking up in midair. The entire plane was down within 60 to 90 seconds.
The White House issued a statement on the report calling the report “an important milestone in the effort to hold accountable those responsible for the shoot-down of the aircraft and the killing of those aboard” — but neglecting to mention Russia.
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the report “also serves to remind us of this terrible tragedy and the impact it continues to have on those left behind.”
“We maintain our support for the work being conducted by the countries of the Joint Investigation Team, and reiterate that the United States will fully support all efforts to bring to justice those responsible,” Price said. “Our assessment is unchanged — MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. The victims and their loved ones remain in our thoughts and prayers.”
MH-17 had received permission to cross into Russian airspace right before the missile hit, but Russia told investigators that they didn’t save the radar data. “The Russian Federation did not provide the radar data stating that no radar data was saved, but instead provided the radar screen video replay, which showed combined surveillance primary and secondary radar,” the report states. “In the absence of the underlying radar data (so-called raw data), the video information could not be verified.”
The investigation on the ground was also stymied. “It should be noted that many pieces of the wreckage were not physically examined by the Dutch Safety Board until four months after the crash. During this period some parts were removed, therefore it was not possible to retrieve all wreckage pieces. Wherever possible, the photographs taken immediately after the crash were used in conjuction with the wreckage found.”
Relatives of the victims on board got to view the report before its public release. It notes that it’s “likely that occupants were barely able to comprehend their situation.”
The Dutch prosecutor’s office criminal investigation into MH-17 is expected to conclude early next year, and will officially assign blame for the attack. The Kremlin is fighting the assertion in today’s report that a Buk missile system took down the plane, but the Dutch Safety Board countered that with a detailed rebuttal. The maker of Buk even held their own press conference to insist that their tests showed it couldn’t have been their products involved.
British Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond tweeted that “those responsible must be held to account.” Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Hennadiy Zubko called the attack “a planned terrorist act that occurred on Russian-militant-held territory.”
But Will Stevens, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Russia, tweeted, “My heart goes out to the victims of #MH-17. What a terrible tragedy. Too much energy spent trying to cast blame.”
Stevens deleted the tweet without further comment.