Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a rocket fired from an area in eastern Ukraine that was under the control of pro-Russian rebels at the time, the head of a Dutch investigative team said Tuesday.
“It is an area where borders were shifting. But it is an area where pro-Russian rebels had control,” Tjibbe Joustra, head of the Dutch Safety Board, said in a television interview.
That is a reversal from earlier comments. During a presentation of the report, members said the board was unable to determine exactly from where the missile was fired.
Joustra’s comments were confirmed by a board spokeswoman.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was hit and destroyed by a Russian-made surface-to-air Buk missile over eastern Ukraine, the board concluded Tuesday after a 15-month investigation.
“A 9N314M warhead, launched by a Buk surface-to-air missile system from a 320-square-kilometre area in the eastern part of Ukraine, detonated to the left and above the cockpit,” the final report said.
The missile approached the aircraft almost head-on, the investigation found. After the forward section was hit, it took one to one-and-a-half minutes for the rest of the aeroplane to hit the ground.
Moscow has alleged that the airliner was shot down by the Ukrainian military. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denounced the Dutch report as “biased.”
He said “Russia is ready to provide all the data and assessments that we have available,” according to the Interfax news agency.
MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it went down in rebel-controlled territory on July 17, 2014.
All 298 people on board were killed: 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, a Canadian and a New Zealander.
Investigators said the front section of the plane was “penetrated by hundreds of high-energy objects coming from the warhead.”
The result of the impact and massive pressure wave instantly killed the crew in the cockpit, DSB said, adding that a “large number of fragments from the warheads were found in their bodies.”
The aircraft broke up in mid-air and the cockpit and floor of the business class section were instantly torn away from the fuselage and crashed, while the rest of the plane flew for about 8.5 kilometres east.
Joustra said the report laid to rest what he said was speculation across the world about the crash, saying the investigation determined what happened to MH17, but “also took into account what did not happen.”
“MH17 did not crash as a result of meteor strikes. We have excluded the possibility of technical defects or a bomb,” he said, adding also there was no mid-air collision with another plane.
The plane broke up and scattered over a wreckage area of 50 square kilometres, he said.
The board said Ukraine had enough reason to close the airspace over the eastern part of the country as a precaution before July 17, 2014.
“None of the parties involved recognized the risk posed to
overflying civil aircraft by the armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine,” it said, as the conflict had expanded into the airspace with an increasing number of military aircraft being downed from late April.
Joustra said that on the day of the crash, “160 flights flew over the area.”
Between July 14 and 17 last year, 61 operators from 32 countries routed their flights through the airspace over eastern Ukraine.
The investigators also looked into the impact of the crash on the passengers and crew, and concluded that a number of them “immediately sustained severe injuries … probably causing death.”
“For others, the exposure caused reduced awareness or unconsciousness within moments,” they said, adding that “it is certain that the impact on the ground was not survivable.”
The Dutch Safety Board was tasked with:
– confirming the causes of the crash;
– the issue of flying over conflict areas;
– the reasons why Dutch relatives had to wait for two to four days for confirmation from the authorities that their family members had been on the plane; and
– to what extent those on board consciously experienced the crash.
The board made a reconstruction of the passenger jet using recovered pieces of wreckage, part of the cockpit and business class section.
Other countries contributing to the Dutch investigation include Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, Russia, Britain and the United States.
Malaysia Airlines welcomed the “detailed and exhaustive” DSB report, and said it was “very grateful for the support from the Dutch government.”
US President Barack Obama praised the report as an important milestone in the effort to hold accountable those responsible for the shoot-down of the aircraft and the killing of those aboard.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini hailed the report for ending “15 months of speculation over a number of key facts related to the crash.”