Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed into eastern Ukraine more than a year ago. From the very beginning, it was fairly obvious that it was shot down by some sort of ground-launched missile, and it was likely a Russian-supplied type known as an SA-11“Buk.” The Dutch Safety Board, which was investigating the incident, just released its final report, and it’s even more awful than we thought.
The nearly 20-minute video documenting both the investigation and its conclusions demonstrates conclusively that the original “Buk” theory was correct, despite Russian disinformation campaigns to the contrary. The video is incredibly thorough and compelling in its own right, and deserves to be watched, but the main findings are that:
- The plane was flying along a well-established flight route at 33,000 feet when it went down
- The cockpit and business class separated from the rest of the aircraft first, indicating a break in the front portion of the aircraft, and landed kilometers away from the rest of the plane
- The plane was shot down by an external explosion, and not from any interior force. The airplane was perforated by hundreds of high-energy objects shaped like cubes and bow ties. The shrapnel was coated in traces of explosives, aluminum, and glass, indicating an explosion outside the cockpit. Much of the shrapnel was found in the three bodies of crew members still in their seats in the wreckage
- The missile involved was a Buk, as determined by missile fragments found on the ground
- The cube- and bowtie-shaped shrapnel combination is only found in a ground-launched Buk, and not in any air-to-air missile
- The location of the explosion was determined by both the shrapnel spread pattern, as well as by examining data on the cockpit voice recorder. By comparing the fraction of a second difference in which each of the four cockpit microphones picked up the explosion in the last milliseconds of the flight, it could be determined where the explosion was located. It was approximately one meter up and to the left of the cockpit.
Other theories were examined and discounted, no matter how outlandish, including the incredibly statistically unlikely scenario of the plane getting hit by a meteor or space debris.
The report also looked into whether or not MH17 was doing anything unusual, but the fact of the matter is that Ukraine had established a zone of restricted airspace in the area up to 32,000 feet. By flying above that area, the plane was assumed to be safe from the raging conflict below. More than 150 other commercial airliners flew through the same airspace on the day MH17 was shot down, and three other commercial flights were actually in close proximity to the aircraft as the incident unfolded.
The report doesn’t go into blame for the shoot down, mind you, just the cause of the plane falling out of the sky. Under the official restrictions placed upon the investigation, it’s impossible to determine who was operating the Buk system at the time. Whether it was shot down by Ukrainian “rebels,” inspired at the grassroots level by nothing but gumption and Moxie to somehow learn how to operate and fire the three-piece Buk system comprised of a mobile radar, command post, and launcher mechanism, or whether or not the system was operated by Russian special forces, as the United States asserts, is still officially a question.
Maybe one of these days we’ll find out?
If you want to learn even more, feel free to dive into the full 279-page report. The whole thing is incredibly tragic, and a warning to flights over conflict zones in the future.