MH17 anniversary: Four years after tragic plane crash, what do we know?

Alternative theories, from air-to-air missiles to a meteor collision, continue to be advanced

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 17 July 2018 09:40
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MH17 report: Missile fired from Russia-backed rebel area

On the fourth anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russia is facing a demand from the foreign ministers of the G7 countries “to explain and to address all relevant questions regarding any potential breaches of international law”.

The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014 when it was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile fired from eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew on board died.

The aircraft was at 33,000 feet, above an exclusion zone established at 32,000 feet because of the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels.

Buk missiles can reach a height of 80,000 feet.

The final report by the Dutch Safety Board was released in October 2015. It concluded that the two pilots and the purser, who were sitting in the cockpit, died instantly when the warhead exploded, but could not rule out the possibility that some occupants of the aircraft were conscious for some or all of the time it took to hit the ground, up to 90 seconds after the missile exploded.

The report discounted any other cause. But as with the other Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 lost in 2014, flight MH370, many alternative theories have been advanced.

One account is that the passenger aircraft was shot down by one or more Ukrainian fighter jets. An eye-witness, Natasha Voronina, said that she saw two aircraft fly in different directions.

The Dutch Safety Board concluded that the front part of the plane was blown away from the rest of the jet by the force of the blast. It says no other aircraft were shown on radar schemes.

A satellite photograph shown on Russian television claiming to show a jet closing in the Malaysia Airlines aircraft has been discredited as a fake.

A meteor has also been offered as alternative explanation. But the final report said no ultrasonic sound waves which accompany the descent of a meteor had been recorded. It also notes that the chances of a meteor striking an aircraft have been calculated to be at most one case in 59,000 years.

Nor could a falling satellite have caused the crash: in the week of the crash, no space debris was recorded as re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

An on-board fire has been suggested, because of the evidence of fire damage to wreckage and burns on the bodies of some of the victims. But investigators concluded: “There was no inflight fire before the inflight break-up. Fires erupted at two wreckage sites after the crash.”

Inflight mechanical failure has also been suggested, but again the final report concludes: “There were no known technical malfunctions that could affect the safety of the flight.”

The Dutch Safety Board excludes the possibility of any other cause, saying:“No other scenario can explain this combination of factors.”

The G7 foreign ministers say: “We fully support the work of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), an independent criminal investigation led by the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine.

“The JIT’s findings on Russia’s role in the downing of MH17 are compelling, significant and deeply disturbing.”

“We are united in our support of Australia and the Netherlands as they call on Russia to account for its role in this incident and to cooperate fully with the process to establish the truth and achieve justice for the victims of MH17 and their next of kin.”

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