MH17 crash report: Clues mounting into cause, but answers are few

Images show aftermath of moment 'high-energy objects” penetrated the Boeing 777'

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The small holes in the cockpit and shards of punctured fuselage only tell the end of the story of Flight MH17. The images from the first report into the crash show the aftermath of the moment “high-energy objects” penetrated the Boeing 777, causing it to break up in the air and rain wreckage, bodies and belongings on Ukrainian farmland.

What the report released on Tuesday by the Dutch Safety Board does not tell us, however, are the events leading up to the crash in rebel-held territory on 17 July. The Ukrainian government and eye witnesses have said a missile was fired by separatists from a sophisticated BUK system recently transported from Russia. Defence officials in Moscow, however, have alleged that a Ukrainian fighter jet was in the vicinity of the Malaysia Airlines plane.

The families of the 298 victims have a long wait until they know who was responsible. But the Dutch investigators have established that there was no technical fault or crew error. “[The] sources indicate that Flight MH17 proceeded as normal until it ended abruptly,” said Tjibbe Joustra, Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder from flight MH17 (EPA)

The report tracks the flight of MH17 after its departure at 10.31am from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, bound for Kuala Lumpur. At around 1.08pm there is a routine exchange with air traffic control about other nearby aircraft, before communications stop at 1.19pm. The black box recordings show “no indication that there was anything abnormal with the flight”, the report says, suggesting that whatever devastated the aircraft did so before the crew had a chance to utter a word. 

“It is likely that this damage resulted in the loss of structural integrity of the aircraft, leading to in-flight break up,” the report says. While it does not specify what exactly struck the plane, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the report “leads to the strong suspicion that [it was] a surface-to-air missile”. Eyewitnesses have told BBC Panorama that the men operating a BUK missile system in Ukraine on 17 July had Russian accents and wore different uniforms to the ones favoured by Ukrainian rebels.

An analysis of photographs and video by investigative journalism website Bellingcat, meanwhile, concludes that the BUK system seen on Ukrainian territory was the same one photographed in Russia on 23 and 24 June as it headed in the direction of the Ukrainian border. Russia has repeatedly denied that it is providing troops and arms to the Ukrainian separatists and yesterday a rebel leader in Donetsk said: “We just don’t have the (military) equipment which could bring down a passenger Boeing.”

Defence officials in Moscow have suggested that a Ukrainian fighter jet caused Flight MH17 to crash, but Tuesday’s report made no mention of any military aircraft in its airspace. The Dutch Safety Board is due to release its full report into the crash by July next year, while the Dutch government is also conducting a criminal investigation.