MH17 tragedy blamed on Russia-made missile

  • 14/10/2015
The report recommended that stricter rules should be applied by international aviation bodies (Reuters, file)
The report recommended that stricter rules should be applied by international aviation bodies (Reuters, file)

By Lloyd Jones, NZN Europe Correspondent

Dutch investigators have confirmed a Russian-made missile brought down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 but also criticised Ukraine for failing to close the airspace above a war zone.

Two New Zealanders, 65-year-old Mary Menke and British-born 29-year-old Otaki resident Rob Ayley, were among the 298 killed when MH17 was blown out of the sky on July 17 last year on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Following a 15-month investigation the Dutch Safety Board released its final report into the disaster on Tuesday (local time) at an air base in the southern Netherlands.

In a large hall at the base, air crash investigators unveiled a partial reconstruction of the plane's cockpit and business class section out of wreckage retrieved from Ukraine.

Torn and pitted pieces of the fuselage in the red, white and blue colours of the airline were pinned to a metal frame in the shape of the plane, with windows and the Malaysian flag emblem intact.

The mangled cockpit area held three crumpled metal seats where investigators say the crew were killed instantly when a missile warhead detonated just outside, sending deadly projectiles into the front of the plane.

The cockpit was torn from the rest of the plane which then broke up, the central portion crashing upside down before catching fire on the ground.

Dutch Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra confirmed that a Russian-brand of missile fired from the war zone had brought down the plane, with pieces of the missile recovered from the crash site.

"This warhead fits the kind of missile that is installed in the BUK surface-to-air missile system."

Mr Joustra criticised Ukraine and other authorities for a failure to recognise the risk of flying in that airspace.

He revealed that 160 commercial flights had flown over the area on the day of the crash despite at least 16 Ukrainian military planes and helicopters being shot down in the area over previous weeks.

"Nobody thought that civil aviation was at risk.

"There was sufficient reason to close the airspace as a precaution. The Ukrainian authorities failed to do so," Mr Joustra said.

The report recommended that stricter rules should be applied by international aviation bodies to ensure countries involved in conflict closed endangered airspace in a timely manner.

The report marked out a 320-square-kilometre area in the war zone from where the missile might have been fired but did not specify whether it came from an area under rebel or Ukrainian military control.

Kiev and the West have accused pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane with a missile supplied by Russia but Moscow and the rebels deny any responsibility and point the finger at Ukraine's military.

Both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries have BUK missiles in their arsenals.

The safety board has made clear it is not concerned with blame or liability as those are matters for the separate and ongoing criminal investigation.

The Malaysian government on Tuesday vowed to seek the prosecution of the "trigger happy criminals" who downed the flight.