Malaysia flight

Image courtesy of Reuters

Netherlands Police: MH17 Shoot-Down Likely Scenario
| published Sept. 15, 2014 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

The chief prosecutor in the Netherlands supervising the investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17 has announced that it is his belief that the use of a rocket or missile system to shoot down MH17 is the “most likely” scenario. The announcement came in Rotterdam after many weeks of intensive study and investigative work.

Only days earlier, The Hague had made public its initial conclusion that the Malaysian jetliner had been downed by the use of “high energy objects,” and its report said that it was unlikely that MH17 was destroyed because of mechanical failures within the aircraft or by procedural errors on the part of the flight crew. The Hague had also concluded that MH17 was not brought down by a bomb or device already on board the plane.

The dual investigations seem to confirm the widely held belief that MH17 was struck by ground-launched rockets or missiles. The civilian aircraft—a Boeing 777—was shot down over war-torn Easter Ukraine, where heavily-armed pro-Russian militants are battling the Ukrainian Army loyal to Kiev. The civil war has lasted for many months and has resulted in more than 2300 deaths since March.

The crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17 resulted in the death of all 298 passengers and crew on July 17.

In the Netherlands, law enforcement officials and forensic experts from around the world have been giving special attention to small fragments of metal which have been found inside some of the bodies which were recovered. The shrapnel, as yet not fully identified, may yield clues as to the exact nature of the device used to shoot down the aircraft. Last week, other crash investigators and aviation experts agreed that the damage to the plane’s fuselage indicated that a high-energy, high-speed projectile destroyed the airliner—shattering the airframe and causing a rapid cascade of explosions. Witnesses on the ground heard the explosion and saw the plane break up within seconds. Amateur video footage shot using smartphone devices confirms the eyewitness accounts.

Investigators are also combing through millions of digital images on the web—including photos taken the day before and the day of the crash, along with amateur video and news footage, even recordings of radio conversations and cell phone activity—in an effort to isolate the precise chain of events which led to the plane’s downing on July 17.

Some evidence existed immediately after the crash which indicates the possibility that plane was shot down using a ground-based weapons system.

Ukrainian authorities were monitoring radio conversations between pro-Russian militant units in Eastern Ukraine (and their Russian handlers or advisors just across the border) on the day of the crash, and some of those recordings have yielded powerful, but circumstantial, evidence that the rebels may have been directly involved in the downing of MH17, either by design or by accident. One high ranking rebel officer told reporters from the Associated Press that the plane was shot down by mistake by a small contingent of Russian and Ukrainian rebel fighters who did not follow battlefield protocol of confirming the airplane’s identity. According to this source, the final OK to fire the missile was given because the ranking officer apparently assumed the plane they were tracking was a Ukrainian military plane.

Reporters and civilians in the area of the crash say that they saw a Russian-made BuK missile platform, armed with four Gadfly rockets, moving along roads between towns earlier that day. And U.S. and British satellite equipment recorded the heat signature of a Gadfly rocket—fired from the ground near the Ukrainian-Russia border—just seconds before MH17 disappeared from radar screens in Europe. Radio and cell phone chatter in the hour immediately after the crash indicates that first-responders to the crash site—almost all of them militants—were shocked by the realization that the downed aircraft was a civilian plane.

Investigators are poring over recordings and digital images to piece together the chain of events that day.

The 777 was flying at a high altitude over Eastern Ukraine on its way from Amsterdam to Malaysia. Up to the moment of its disappearance from radar and radio contact, the flight had proceeded normally and without any technical malfunctions. The aircraft’s seating was nearly at full capacity, and on board that day were business people, as well as tourists and vacationers travelling either home from European visits, or back toward their homes in the Pacific region.

Debris from the plane showered down across a rural stretch of farmland and sunflower fields between the small towns of Rozsypne and Grabavo, near Donetsk, in an area where particularly intense fighting between the Ukrainian Army and the rebels had been taking place. The crash site is about 19 miles from the border with Russia. In mid-July, the Ukrainians has made substantial gains, retaking dozens of towns and strongholds from the militants. The Ukrainian forces were moving closer to Donetsk in an effort to encircle the pro-Russian militants.

If Dutch and international authorities make a final conclusion regarding who is to blame for the incident, charges may be brought against those who participated in the firing of the missile or missiles which caused the destruction of MH17. However, some legal analysts question whether any international authority would have the power to bring that person to justice, especially if the officer who made the decision to fire upon a civilian aircraft is being protected by Russia. Moscow may not cooperate with any process in which a Russian officer is prosecuted by a court in the Netherlands.

Moscow has steadfastly denied any involvement in the downing of Malaysian Airline flight 17, and it is Russia’s position that the civilian plane was shot down by Ukrainian military pilots, possibly as a ruse to make the rebels look bad, or by mistake.

Officials working on the investigation say that there is still much work to be done, and that any final conclusion or determination could be months, even years, away.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Hague: MH-17 Was Shot Down; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; September 10, 2014.

The Economic Impact of Ukraine’s War; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 25, 2014.