MH17 Malaysia plane crash: What we know

  • 11 August 2015
  • From the section Europe

One year ago, 298 people lost their lives when a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine, close to the border with Russia.

Flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was travelling over the conflict-hit region on 17 July 2014 when it disappeared from radar. A total of 283 passengers, including 80 children, and 15 crew members were on board.

What type of plane was it?

The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER, the same model as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March last year.

The plane, manufactured in 1997, had a clean maintenance record and its last check was on 11 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines said.

Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down.

What happened?

According to Dutch air accident investigators, the plane left Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at 10:31 GMT (12:31 local time) on 17 July and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 22:10 GMT (06:10 local time).

In its preliminary report, the Dutch Safety Board said the plane lost contact with air traffic control at 13:20 GMT, when it was about 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Malaysia Airlines had initially said that the plane lost contact at 14:15 GMT.

Footage emerged of the crash site in the Donetsk area of Ukraine - territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists - and witnesses spoke of dozens of bodies on the ground.

More footage then emerged of the moments after MH17 went down. Taken on 17 July 2014, the amateur video was not seen until 16 November.

What caused the crash?

Western nations believe there is growing evidence that the plane was hit by a Russian-supplied missile fired by rebels. However, Russia blames Ukrainian government forces.

US officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have said there is a "solid case" that a SA-11 missile - also known as Buk - was fired from eastern Ukraine under "conditions the Russians helped create".

Buk surface-to-air missile system

They say the "most plausible explanation" for the shooting down of the plane was that rebels mistook it for another aircraft.

Evidence includes images purportedly showing a surface-to-air missile launcher in the area, analysis of voice recordings of pro-Russian rebels apparently admitting bringing the airliner down and social-media activity pointing to rebel involvement.

The evidence also includes satellite images of a facility allegedly used to train rebels near the Russian city of Rostov, which were tweeted by Geoffrey Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine.

Russia, however, denies all allegations it supplied weaponry to the rebels and has instead suggested a Ukrainian military plane flew within firing range of the airliner just before it came down. The Ukrainian government rejects the claims.

Experts say flight crash investigators should be able to determine what caused the crash from traces left on the debris.

In September 2014, the preliminary report from the Dutch investigation team said MH17 broke up mid-air after being hit by "numerous objects" that "pierced the plane at high velocity" from outside the cabin and above the level of the cockpit floor.

There was "no evidence of technical or human error", it added.

In August 2015, the Dutch investigation announced that fragments of a suspected Russian missile system had been found at the crash site.

However, the investigators also stated they had not yet proved a "causal connection" between the fragments and the crash.

The final report is expected to be published later this year.

How a missile could have brought down MH17

How about the wreckage?

Parts of the plane were found 8km (5 miles) from the main debris site, with reports of some items being found even further afield.

Where debris from MH17 was found

Following the crash, there was international outcry over the way rebels handled the debris site, leaving passengers' remains exposed to summer heat and allowing untrained volunteers to comb through the area.

This led to weeks of delays in the removal of the wreckage, but a deal made with local militias eventually allowed the work to begin.

Analysis of the wreckage forms part of the overall Dutch investigation into the causes of the crash.

The spread of MH17 debris near Grabove

INTERACTIVE
  • Satellite image of MH17 debris

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  • Crash site near village

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    Satellite images taken by DigitalGlobe on 20 July appear to show the large debris field near the village of Hrabove.

  • Debris in field

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    About 700 metres (2,296ft) down the road from the village is another patch where bodies and debris have been found.

  • Tail piece

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    A piece of Flight MH17's tail, with the Malaysia Airlines marking, is seen lying on its own about 100m (330ft) south of the other debris.

Who was on board?

Image caption Those killed were from across the world

The 298 who perished

Malaysia Airlines' passenger list shows flight MH17 was carrying 193 Dutch nationals (including one with dual US nationality), 43 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons (including one with dual South African citizenship).

There were also four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one New Zealander on board.

At least six of those killed were delegates on their way to an international conference on Aids in Melbourne, Australia.

Professor Joep Lange - a prominent scientist and a former president of the International Aids Society (IAS), was among those who died.

His colleagues have described him as "a great clinical scientist" and "a wonderful person and a great professional".

Other stories of passengers and crew emerging include a Malaysia-Dutch family of five, a Dutch couple on their way to Bali, an Australian pathologist and his wife returning from a European holiday, as well as a Malaysian flight steward whose wife - who also works for Malaysia Airlines - had narrowly escaped death when she pulled out of a shift working on missing flight MH370.

Was it safe to fly over Ukraine?

Malaysia Airlines' senior vice-president Europe, Huib Gorter, said the flight route had been declared safe by the authorities, was being used by many other airlines and was not subject to any restrictions.

Although the area where the jet crashed had a no-fly zone in place up to 9,754m (32,000ft), the airliner was flying above the limit at 10,058m (33,000ft).

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority says airlines' decisions on whether to fly over conflict zones will be based on a range of factors - advice from the Foreign Office, warnings in the area, weather, navigation aids, strikes and which airports are out of action.

In the 48 hours running up to the MH17 crash, many airlines had chosen to keep flying in the area, as data from flight tracker Planefinder shows.

According to Flight radar24, which also monitors live flight paths, the airlines that most frequently flew over Donetsk in the last week were: Aeroflot (86 flights), Singapore Airlines (75), Ukraine International Airlines (62), Lufthansa (56), and Malaysia Airlines (48).

At the time of the MH17 crash on 17 July, a number of other flights were in the area.

Selected flights over eastern Ukraine on the afternoon of 17 July

What about the plane's black boxes?

Pro-Russian separatists handed over the plane's "black box" flight recorders to Malaysian investigators, who in turn passed them on to Dutch authorities.

The recorders - actually coloured a deep orange to aid discovery - store key technical information about the flight as well as conversations in the cockpit.

According to the Dutch Safety Board, the flight data recorder showed that "all engine parameters were normal for cruise flight" until the recording "stopped abruptly at 13.20:03 hrs".

No spoken warnings were found on the cockpit voice recorder.

The Dutch investigators also said there was no evidence that the flight recorders had been tampered with.

Who is investigating?

Image caption Monitors at the crash site have not been able to move freely

Responsibility for the investigation belongs to the state within which an incident occurs, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

As such, the Ukrainian government initiated the probe, but invited Malaysia to participate.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - whose job it is to observe the site ahead of the arrival of investigators - were the first team to visit the debris zone, however their movements were restricted by militiamen.

A Malaysian team of 133 officials and experts, comprising search and recovery personnel, forensics experts, technical and medical experts also travelled to Ukraine.

But the Dutch Safety Board is now leading an international probe to try to piece together evidence on what happened.

Experts from the UK, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, the US, Ukraine and Russia are collaborating on the case.

In July 2015 a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal into the MH17 air disaster was put before the UN Security Council.

Malaysia had pushed for a tribunal to take place, but the proposal was blocked when Russia used its veto. It was the only nation at the 15-member UN Security Council to oppose the move.

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