Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 inquiry finds aircraft hit multiple times
As evidence of the July 17 aviation disaster that killed all 298 people on board remained exposed to the elements, investigators hundreds of miles away in the Netherlands released a preliminary report that left key questions unanswered.
A child's jump rope, its yellow handles blistered and charred. A burned book in Tagalog. Chunks of twisted fuselage. More than seven weeks after being shot from the sky, the wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 still lay strewn Tuesday across the fields of eastern Ukraine.
As evidence of the July 17 aviation disaster that killed all 298 people on board remained exposed to the elements, investigators hundreds of miles away in the Netherlands — who have not yet visited the crash site because it is deemed too dangerous — released a preliminary report that left key questions unanswered.
The plane had no mechanical or other technical problem in the seconds before it broke up in the sky after being struck by multiple "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft," the report said.
There were multiple punctures in the cockpit and front section of the fuselage, it said — damage that could be caused by a missile that detonates in front of its target and peppers it with small chunks of metal. However, investigators did not identify the source of the fragments or say who fired them.
Although the report drew no conclusions about responsibility, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the findings were consistent with "our original assessment, that it was likely shot down by one of these surface-to-air missiles fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine."
"I'm unaware of other objects or ways that it could be brought down that are consistent with that finding," Harf said of the report. "It highlights questions for which Russia must still answer."
The slow pace of the inquiry, its cautious preliminary conclusion and the fact that wreckage and human remains are still lying in Ukraine frustrated and angered victims' families.
"Well, I don't know what to say about this," said Samira Calehr, a Dutch mother who lost two sons, 11-year-old Miguel and 19-year-old Shaka, in the crash.
She said that she wants the people responsible for downing the plane brought to justice "as soon as possible," pausing for emphasis on every word. "I want to know who killed my children."
Zenaida Ecal, a 53-year-old resident of Pagbilao in the northeastern Philippines who lost her best friend, Irene Gunawan, expressed frustration that the report discloses only what many already knew — that the Malaysian plane came under fire — but fails to identify the perpetrators.
"We just want all of the victims to be found, identified and given a proper burial. We want the perpetrators to be identified and punished. As long as these don't happen, all the families and friends of the victims will continue to suffer," Ecal said. "It's taking so long."
A separate Dutch-led criminal investigation is underway aimed at bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board that is leading the international investigation, acknowledged the preliminary report — mandated by international aviation guidelines — did not shed much new light on the downing of the Boeing 777.
"Perhaps you could say we are a little bit behind, but we are not behind with the truth. We try to make a report that's for the next of kin — very important — but also for history," he said.
"I understand a lot of people say, 'Why don't they work a little quicker?' But this will take its time," he added.
Governments whose citizens died on Flight 17 were left in little doubt about what happened.
"The findings are consistent with the government's statement that MH17 was shot down by a large surface-to-air missile," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement.
Christopher Yates, an aviation safety specialist at Yates Consulting, told The Associated Press the report "is extremely consistent with damage from a missile for the simple reason there are penetration marks.
"It must have been moving at very high velocity to create the damage," he said. "It could only be a missile of the type that would reach the altitude that would have struck the aircraft — potentially a BUK missile."
The Dutch report came a day after the BBC's "Panorama" show cited residents who said they saw a BUK M-1 missile being offloaded in a town in eastern Ukraine, near the place seen in photos released by the Ukrainian army that showed a BUK launcher heading east. They said that the crew handling it had Russian accents.
The report added to a growing body of evidence that pro-Russian rebels were involved.
Just three hours before the plane was shot down above rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, the AP reported on the passage of a BUK M-1 missile system — a machine the size of a tank bearing four ground-to-air missiles — through the rebel-held town of Snizhne near the crash site.
A highly placed rebel officer told the AP in an interview after the disaster that the plane was shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane. Intercepted phone conversations between the rebels released by the Ukrainian government support that version of events.
In those tapes, the first rebels to reach the scene can be heard swearing when they see the number of bodies and the insignia of Malaysia Airlines.
Nearly two months later, those insignia and other poignant reminders of the 298 lost lives are still scattered around the crash site.
Samira Calehr said she was disappointed with the pace of progress.
"I think that if this had happened to citizens of the United States, they would make a faster move than here," she said. "Because I think — I'm so sorry for saying it like this — I think the Dutch government, they are safe players. They don't want to have an issue."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the head of a mission to bring back human remains and belongings would travel to Ukraine on Wednesday. But the region is still deemed to unsafe for the Dutch Safety Board staff.
Shelling continued overnight in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire, injuring one woman, the city council of Donetsk said.
The council for the rebel-held stronghold said a school and several residential buildings were hit by shelling, imperiling the already shaky cease-fire between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces.
Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told journalists Tuesday that five servicemen had been killed and 33 wounded since the cease-fire was declared on Friday.