Russian-built missile downed MH17 airliner, Dutch probe says

By bne IntelliNews October 13, 2015

bne IntelliNews -

A Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile hit and destroyed the Malaysian Airlines MH17 passenger jet over eastern Ukraine last year, killing all 298 people on board, the Dutch Safety Board said on October 13 as it released its findings about the incident.

Its cockpit devastated and crew killed by fragments from the Buk's 9N314M warhead, the plane broke up, scattering debris over a 50km sq area of rebel-held territory, board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said, not apportioning direct blame to anyone but criticising a lack of safety leading up to the tragedy that occurred on July 17, 2014.

"None of the parties involved recognised the risk from the armed conflict on the ground," Joustra told victims' relatives and media at the Gilze-Rijen military base in the Netherlands. Investigators had ruled out a bomb on the plane, air-to-air strikes, or meteor strike, he said, speaking in front of a partial reconstruction of the front fuselage of the Boeing 777 assembled from wreckage collected from the crash site.

The remains of the plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur fell in territory held by pro-Moscow rebels at the height of the conflict against Ukrainian government troops, complicating investigations in the immediate aftermath. The victims included 193 Dutch nationals.

While Ukraine and the West say rebels used a Buk missile to down the plane, the separatists and Russia blame Ukraine, with Moscow initially claiming a Ukrainian fighter plane shot down the airliner. 

The Dutch investigation did not hold either side directly responsible for launching the weapon, but said the weapon was launched from an area that was at the time controlled by the rebels. The airspace over eastern Ukraine should already have been closed by national authorities in Kyiv, the official said. 

Flight altitude restrictions were imposed over Ukraine after the downing of the jet, but flights over the territory continued, including 160 after MH17 was shot down.

Three other aircraft were flying in the area at the time of the missile strike, the investigation found.

Debris still arriving

Joustra said the recovery of the wreckage was a "complicated process" and that more details could still emerge as more debris was found only two weeks ago.

In the run-up to the report's release, carefully-worded preliminary findings said the aircraft was hit by "high energy objects from outside the aircraft", interpreted as referring to the pre-formed fragments of the type of missile, which bursts close by a target to maximise damage.

Bowtie shaped fragments specific to the 9N314M warhead were found in the bodies of crew members killed in the cockpit, a video explained, while fragments found in the cockpit carried traces of paint linked to Buk missile warheads.

Meanwhile, victims' families were told that their loved ones were unlikely to have been aware during the final moments of the aircraft's flight.

Speaking to the BBC after the presentation, Briton Barry Sweeney, whose 28-year-old son Liam died, said his and other grieving families have to presume the victims died immediately or were unconscious as the plane went down. "I'm going to have to think Liam died instantly... because otherwise it will hurt forever," he said.

Russian rebuttal 

Meanwhile, the company that builds the Buk issued its own report in Moscow that indirectly blamed Ukrainian government forces.

The missile that destroyed the MH17 was launched close the the village of Zaroschenskoe in territory controlled by Kyiv's troops, the Almaz-Antey company said. A simulation of the explosion on a test fuselage showed that missile impact damage was not consistent with the Dutch conclusion about where the missile was launched from.

Independent military experts dismissed the company's claims immediately.

"The report released today by Russian missile maker Almaz-Antey should be discounted as disinformation and propaganda aimed at drawing attention away from the Dutch report," wrote Nick de Larrinaga, Europe Editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. "Russia has veered wildly in its claims over who and what shot down MH17, initially the Russian Ministry of Defence made the claim that it was shot down by Ukrainian Su-25 ground-attack aircraft."
The expert also challenged Russian denials that it no longer operates the type of Buk missile used to down the plane: "This is not borne out by the evidence, which shows they remained in Russian service and in Russian military stockpiles at the time of the shootdown."

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the Dutch report "biased", state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported. Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a number of facts provided by the Russian side in connection with the destruction of the aircraft were ignored by the international commission.

Russia "has repeatedly expressed its disappointment at the lack of an adequate level of cooperation and involvement of Russian specialists in the course of the investigation", Interfax news agency cited Peskov as saying on October 12.

Russia in July vetoed a proposal to set up a UN tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arguing that "it was introduced only to strengthen the image of Russia as a guilty party in this horrific crime", TASS reported.

Scepticism of the Russian findings also grew as voices in Moscow were already dismissing the Dutch report even before it was released.

"It's always special when people already know that they don't agree with a report that's not even published yet," the inquiry head Joustra said. (Relatives of the victims were allowed the see the report a day before it was made public.)

Meanwhile, a separate Dutch-led international criminal investigation continues, with prosecutors pledging to pursue the case until those responsible for downing MH17 are brought before a court that still has to be specified.

The downing of the airliner drew instant world condemnation and escalated tensions between the West and Russia, which is regarded as having fuelled the separatist forces with weapons and troops in order to destabilise Ukraine as it tries to integrate with the EU and gain entry to Nato. Russia denies any direct involvement in the fighting.

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