The transcript of the last moments of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has revealed the frantic search for the plane as air traffic controllers lost contact with the cockpit.
A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board looking into the tragedy, which killed all 298 passengers and crew on board, found it was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Despite persistent claims since the crash on 17 July that it was hit by a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels, the report did not assign blame but confirmed it “broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside”.
The plane, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was proceeding as normal at 1pm in regular contact with air traffic controllers in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine (DNP on transcript).
A person in the cockpit replied to directions at 1.19pm, but just seconds later when a controller cleared them to proceed to the next waypoint, TIKNA, there was silence.
“Malaysia one seven, how do you read me?” a Ukrainian controller asked, repeating a call over radio three times.
Unable to reach MH17, the controller called the next air traffic control centre due to contact the flight in Rostov, Russia (RST).
The Russians confirmed they were also unable to contact the Malaysian plane and could not see it on radar.
Another plane flying nearby was asked if it could see MH17 on its instruments, the report said, but the crew answered that it was not visible or on radar.
“It’s disappeared,” the Ukrainian controller said, while Rostov answered “yes, nothing. We see nothing”.
Calls to the plane continued until 1.35pm but it had already crashed near the city of Torez in Donetsk oblast, scattering wreckage over miles of rebel-controlled countryside.
Investigators said there was no indication that the crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew.
“The cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder and data from air traffic control all suggest that flight MH17 proceeded as normal until 13:20:03 (UTC), after which it ended abruptly,” the report said.
Initially, responsibility for the investigation rested with Ukraine, but six days after the crash it transferred responsibility to the Dutch Safety Board as 193 of the 283 passengers were Dutch nationals.
There were 10 British victims and others were from Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada, New Zealand and the US.
The Dutch Safety Board’s full report is expected by next July, within a year of the disaster.
“The initial results of the investigation point toward an external cause of the MH17 crash,” the board's chairman, Tjibbe Joustra, said.
“More research will be necessary to determine the cause with greater precision.
“The Safety Board believes that additional evidence will become available for investigation in the period ahead.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the findings “leads to the strong suspicion that a surface-to-air missile brought MH17 down, but further investigative work is needed before we can be certain.”
The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, whose Government is still trying to find the lost Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, agreed, saying the international community must “remain focused on finding, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators”.
Because of the ongoing conflict between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces, investigators have not visited the wreckage site and forensic examination can only be performed if parts of the aircraft can be removed.
Additional reporting by agencies
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