Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vital clues may have been moved, say air crash experts

Finding out who's to blame may be as difficult as in Afghanistan and Iraq

Senior figures in the air accident investigation community yesterday warned that the chances of a proper investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 are looking increasingly doubtful, as reports emerged that Ukraine separatists were destroying evidence.

Investigators said establishing a security cordon at the crash site, outside the village of Grabovo in eastern Ukraine, was crucial if there was to be hope of discovering what, or who, brought down the airliner and claimed almost 300 lives.

"It is very worrying to see that somebody could have moved what could be critical pieces of evidence," said Phil Giles, formerly with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, who looked into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. "At Lockerbie, the whole investigation hinged on finding a thumbnail-sized piece of the bomb's timing device. That shows how vital securing the site is."

Images posted on social media continued to show that large parts of the downed Boeing 777 airliner, including part of the fuselage and overhead lockers, were lying unattended. Other witnesses reported spotting items of debris in corn fields as far away as 10 miles from the majority of the debris.

Reconstructed remains of Pan Am Flight 103 Reconstructed remains of Pan Am Flight 103 "The situation at the site will make the job of investigating this all the harder," Mr Giles told The IoS. "Investigators will potentially be looking for explosive residue on sections of the aircraft, or even components from any ground-to-air missile. But, as it stands, we simply don't know if some bugger with a balaclava and an assault rifle hasn't moved those.

"Watching the TV footage, it has also been really disappointing to see Western media trampling all over the evidence... potentially destroying evidence."

Dutch, American and British air accident investigators have been converging on the scene since Friday, but most are still waiting in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

According to Mr Giles, once the investigation is able to get under way it will focus on tracking critical evidence of any explosives as well as determining the location of the aircraft's two black box flight recorders, which provide flight information as well as a recording of conversation between the pilot and co-pilot.

Read more: West gives Putin 'one last chance' to end hostilities
Pro-Russians accused of blocking access to site of disaster
West gives Putin 'one last chance' to end hostilities
EU should 'reconsider its links with Russia,' says Cameron
Comment: In war, it's the civilians who suffer most of all

Mr Giles said the reported removal of bodies could pose a "significant challenge" for investigators to try to "piece together the final moments of flight MH17". He added: "Obviously, bodies need to be treated with respect and in the heat moved as quickly as possible. But the corpses are evidence in themselves. They can tell us a lot about how the plane may have broken up or hit the ground.

"Often, locals will pull everything together into one pile, thinking they are helping investigators or they'll collect passports as they appear to have done in Ukraine, but this is the worst thing they can do and will contaminate the scene. The worry here is that people moving things may have more dubious motivations than helping investigate."

Tony Cable, a former air accident investigator with 32 years' experience of civilian and military crashes, said that the job "wouldn't be desperately complex if it wasn't for the politics on the round".

"It's looking increasingly likely it was taken down by a sophisticated ground-to-air missile, so you would expect to see wreckage with blast damage," said the investigator, who also worked on Lockerbie as well as the Paris Concorde crash in 2000. "And surfaces adjacent to any explosion would have chemical traces that, depending on the manufacture of the missile, should be fairly easily traceable, as many missiles have a detectable chemical signature that act almost as fingerprints."

Mr Cable added that he could not recall "a more challenging site". He compared the Ukraine crash with military investigations in Iraq and Afghanistan: "securing the site" and "protecting investigators" were the "biggest challenges". Another issue was what form the investigation would take, as the lines of authority for the growing international investigation still remain unclear.

There were growing calls yesterday for an investigation by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which was backed by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

However, as Mr Giles and Mr Cable pointed out, there is "no precedent" or "legal method" for the ICAO to run an investigation itself under Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. This states that the State of Occurrence – in this case Ukraine – is officially in charge of the MH17 accident investigation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee