Preliminary findings from Dutch experts investigating the July crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine show that the plane broke up in the air, probably due to a large number of “high energy objects” penetrating it from the outside. The report from the Dutch Safety Board does not assign blame for the disaster. The Boeing 777, which was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, broke apart at 33,000 feet and crashed over southeastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Because of the large number of Dutch citizens who were killed in the crash the Dutch Safety Board has the lead role in the investigation.
The Dutch report supports initial theories that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The report, issued yesterday by the Netherlands’ air safety board, says that the damage pattern on the cockpit section and forward fuselage of the remains of the Malaysia Airlines plane are consistent with a large number of high energy objects striking the plane from the outside. Fragments of the aircraft showed numerous indentations and puncture holes that would be consistent with missile shrapnel damage, and also rule out pilot error or mechanical problems as the cause of the crash.
The Dutch investigative team worked with experts from other countries, including Russia, Malaysia and the U.S., evaluating photographs of the wreckage, data from the flight recorders and air-traffic control information. The wreckage, which was spread out over an area of about three by six miles, was distributed in a manner consistent with the plane breaking up in midair. However, the preliminary report did not mention a missile. The investigation has been hampered by difficulty accessing the crash site, which rebel forces tried to seal off immediately after the plane’s downing. The team had to rely heavily on photos of the site taken by Ukrainian and Malaysian investigators.
The question remains as to who fired the missile. Shortly after the crash, U.S. intelligence sources stated that the Malaysia Airlines plane was destroyed by a rocket fired from separatist-held territory. The most common belief in Western countries and in Ukraine itself is that the missile came from Russian-backed militants. Rebels say Ukrainian forces were responsible. Investigators have not yet found evidence that any Ukrainian fighter planes were in the vicinity to fire a missile. There is, however, evidence of a surface-to-air missile launcher in the area. Separatist leaders continue to deny any involvement in the crash, saying the reports confirm their claims that, in an effort to discredit the rebels, the plane was shot down by Kiev forces.
Regardless of who might have fired the missile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein that since the crash happened in the airspace of Ukraine, that country bears the full responsibility for the incident. Victims’ families are angered that the Dutch report does not assign responsibility for the crash, and have called on the Malaysian government to punish those responsible for what one family member calls “this coldblooded murder.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that although the early report is that high energy objects impacting the Malaysia Airlines plane led to the downing of the aircraft over Ukraine, further investigation is needed. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed that it is still too early to assign blame. The board’s final report is expected in mid-2015.
By Beth A. Balen