Investigation of Malaysian Flight MH17 Crash: Full Story

MH17 Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines

Updated August 17, 2014 – 9:00 GMT.

MH17 Victims

The Dutch team of forensic experts started their work at a military base in Hilversum from July 23, as soon as first 40 coffins with victims from the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight arrived to the Netherlands. On August 8 experts identified 23 bodies, and later on August 15 they said they identified 127 victims so far. First bodies of Australian citizens and residents were identified too.

From July 23 to August 5, Dutch and Australian military transport planes carried recovered bodies and body parts from Kharkiv city (Eastern Ukraine) to the Eindhoven air base (Netherlands). Controversy around how many bodies were recovered still remains. Ukraine’s government said they recovered  282 bodies and 87 fragments of 16 people on July 18-21. The airliner was carrying 298 people, including 80 children.

In the first day of transportation (July 23) planes carried 40 coffins with bodies. Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and prime minister Mark Rutte were in Eindhoven with around 1,000 bereaved relatives of the 193 Dutch passengers and 10 Britons, killed in the disaster. In a poignant and sombre ceremony, uniformed Dutch military personnel hoisted 40 wooden coffins from planes and placed them in individual hearses.

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Initially the bodies & human remains were kept at the refrigerator railcars at the railway station in the city of Torez in Donetsk region. Then in the night July 21-22 the morgue train went to the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv (about 300 km from Torez). Since 10:00 GMT July 22 the train is stationed in Kharkiv Malyshev factory. There was also confusion about how many of the 282 corpses were on the train, because the Dutch official said that at least 200 bodies were aboard the train and that more remains could be found once the body bags are examined fully.

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Pics from Kharkiv and Torez by Paul Sonne, Max Seddon, OSCE in Ukraine, Daniel Sandford.

Wreckage of Malaysian Boeing 777 – 200

Ukrainian government prepared a large hangar at the State aviation factory in Kharkiv to collect parts of fuselage of Boeing 777-200. Aviation authorities will analyze wreckage and investigate how the SA-11 missile could pulverize the aircraft on impact.

The Wall Street Journal cataloged and mapped some of the debris of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which fell across three Ukrainian villages, using satellite and geolocated photos.

First photographs of fuselage fragments show that the shrapnel damage is consistent with missile strike. Photos also show that the rocket allegedly exploded at the cockpit, causing immediate death of pilots and critical damage to the aircraft.

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Pics from the crash site by FT, Tom Coghlan, Daniel Sandford, Justin Bronk, Jeroen Akkermans, Tomas C. Theiner.

MH17 Crash Site Investigation

Malaysia MH 17 Crash Site UkraineCrash area is over 34 square km of farmland in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk region between the villages of Grabove, Rozsypne, Pelahivka, Moskovske, Sriukove, and Grabovske water reservoir (near the border with Russia). From the beginning, the site was sealed off with pro-Russian gunmen who are preventing full access. Ukraine’s anti-terrorist forces didn’t clear this area from July 17.

Team of international investigators – mainly Dutch and Australian with a group of Malaysian – were able to access the MH17 crash site for three consecutive days on August 1-3, but gunfire and shelling halts a search.

In July-June in this area 2 Ukrainian cargo planes and a fighter jet have been shot down by the Russia-backed terrorists.

MH17 Crash Site: Looters & Russian Intelligence Agents

In the first days after crash the Russia-supported terrorists with locals looted the bodies and luggage among the wreckage, stealing cash, credit cards, jewelry, mobiles, cameras, alcohol, and other possessions. Reporters photographed a man in military camouflage at the moment of stealing passenger’s wedding ring. On July 22, their leader and Russian army intelligence officer Igor Girkin ordered to mercenaries “to donate all stolen jewelry and valuable stuff from MH17 to his needs”.

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Pics from the crash site by Reuters, Daily MailJeroen Akkermans.

Mascara From MH370 Victim Allegedly Used On InstagramA Pro-Russia woman Ekaterina Parkhomenko from the eastern Ukrainian Torez city posted Instagram photos of herself dolled up with makeup that she claimed a “looter” friend swiped from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Ukraine security investigators tracked that on July 19 someone from Ukraine tried to withdraw money from those victims’ credit cards. On July 20 Dutch banking association reported that Dutch banks blocked access to credit cards of MH17 passengers.

On July 21, the Ukrainian government said that the diplomatic mail was stolen from the crash site as well. The Presidential administration official emphasized that the intelligence officers from Russia’s FSB were working at the crash site undercover. Their presence was a true reason why pro-Russian rebels blocked an access to the site and why the several days delay with recovering MH17 bodies happened.

MH17 ‘Black Boxes’

On July 23, the two ‘black boxes’ from flight MH17 – the voice data recorder and the flight data recorder – have been delivered from Eastern Ukraine to the headquarters of the UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) in Farnborough.  Experts from the AAIB are considered one of the world’s pre-eminent specialists in air crash analysis. But  it is likely to take months for it to be analysed in tandem with examination of the remnants of the aircraft.

The Ukrainian government said that it didn’t have access to the ‘black boxes’ at any time, thus can’t be responsible for possible data distortions. On July 24, the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement “Position of Ukraine regarding the catastrophe of Malaysia airlines flight MH 17”. In particular, Ukraine suspects that the data in the recorders could be falsified while the boxes was in hands of pro-Russian terrorists for several days. However, the Farnborough AAIB HQ said on July 23, that recorders are intact, there is no evidence of tampering, data is valid and successfully downloaded for analysis.

‘Black boxes’ made a long journey: after being taken by pro-Russian rebels from the crash site, they were moved to Donetsk, then by train to Kharkiv and finally to the UK. On July 21, leaders of the pro-Russian terrorists handed over 2 MH17 ‘black boxes’ to the Malaysian delegation in the occupied Donetsk regional administration after 12 hours of negotiations.

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Photos by Reuters, EPA.

The fate of the flight recorders remained in question for 3 days after crash. On July 20 leaders of Russian terrorists claimed that they found them. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) released intercepted phone conversations between terrorist groups at the crash site and their Russian commanders. They discussed the need to obtain ‘black boxes’.

Who Shot Down MH17 Flight?

Russian terrorist Igor Bezler
Igor Bezler

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said that the Malaysian airliner was shot down by a group of Russian army officers. The order to fire was issued by the Russian military intelligence (GRU) lieutenant colonel, the commander of pro-Russian rebels in the Ukrainian Donetsk region Igor Bezler (nickname ‘Bes’ / Devil).

SBU released recordings of intercepted phone conversations between those who launched the rocket and Russian officers. They acknowledge that they shot down an airliner. A person is heard saying “We have just shot down a plane”. On July 20, the US Embassy in Kyiv shared a statement saying that “the intercepted phone conversations between rebels and Russian intelligence officials about downing the MH17 flight are authentic.”

Weapon of Murder – SA-11 ‘Buk’ Anti-Aircraft Missile System 

Buk SA-11 MH17

Terrorists launched the surface-to-air missile from the Russia-made anti-aircraft system ‘Buk’ (SA-11). The SA-11 could reach 22,000 m – or nearly double the altitude of Malaysian Boeing was flying at the tragic moment. A built-in radar system allows it to track aerial targets but only trained personnel are able to operate it.

On July 19, the United States has confirmed that Russia supplied at least 3 sophisticated Buk missile launchers to its terrorists in eastern Ukraine and that attempts were made to move them back across the Russian border. On August 8, the Ukrainian MP Bryginets said that Ukrainian forces destroyed 1 out of 4 SA-11 systems which terrorists had, and 3 were moved back to Russia.

On August 7, the Ukrainian Security Service’s (SBU) head Valentin Nalivaichenko said that terrorists wanted to shot down the Russian Aeroflot plane en route Moscow – Larnaca, but mixed up two Pervomaiske towns in Donetsk region and moved their ‘Buk’ to the wrong place, downing the MH17 instead. As Nalivaichenko said, Kremlin planned to start invading Ukraine since July 18, using the downing of the Aeroflot airliner on July 17 as a pretext for such a mass invasion.

Ukrainian police released the intelligence video how terrorists move the SA-11 across Donetsk region. The system lacks a rocket.

Who Are The Victims?

MH17 Boeing 777 Malaysia AirlinesThe Malaysian airliner (flight MH17) was carrying 298 people – 15 crew members and 283 passengers, including 80 children. The victims came from 12 countries. An entire Indonesian family, a nun, 3 young siblings flying home with their grandfather, a former BBC journalist & media officer at the World Health Organisation, doctors, AIDS research scientists, students, two soccer fans are among the murdered passengers. More info about all MH17 victimsAustralian victims, British & Malaysian victims.

Here is the list of MH17 nationalities, updated by Malaysian Airlines on July 21.

  • Netherlands: 193 (including one dual Netherlands/US citizen)
  • Malaysia: 43 (including 15 crew members and two infants)
  • Australia: 27
  • Indonesia: 12 (including one infant)
  • United Kingdom: 10 (including one dual UK/South Africa citizen)
  • Germany: 4
  • Belgium: 4
  • Philippines: 3
  • Canada: 1
  • New Zealand: 1

About MH17 Flight (Amsterdam – Kuala Lumpur) 

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Map RouteThe Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, July 17 approximately at 13:20 GMT en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This aircraft Boeing 777-200 had been built in 1997. All plane’s systems were functioning normally when it was last checked out earlier in July, as Malaysia Airlines assured.

The plane was flying over the site of fighting between Ukrainian anti-terrorist forces and pro-Russian separatists as well as armed Russian mercenaries. The airliner was flying on an active airway at an approved 10,000m altitude. From July 14, the airspace over the war-torn region was closed at elevations up to 9,700m after a Ukrainian military cargo plane was shot down by a missile.

Ukrainians Mourn Air Crash Victims

Ukrainians brought flowers, candles and toys to Dutch and Malaysian Embassies in Kyiv to mourn victims of MH17.  A Ukrainian flag flies half-staff at the Ukrainian embassy in The Hague, Netherlands.

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