GILZE-RIJEN AIR FORCE BASE, Netherlands (AFP/REUTERS) - Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was brought down by a BUK missile fired from war-torn eastern Ukraine that struck the plane on the left side of the cockpit, the Dutch Safety Board said on Tuesday (Oct 13) in its final report on the July 2014 crash that killed all 298 aboard.
“Flight MH17 crashed as a result of the detonation of a warhead outside the airplane against the left-hand side of the cockpit," the chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, Tjibbe Joustra, told a press conference at the Gilze-Rijen air force base in the Netherlands where the flight cabin and business class section of the Boeing 777 have been assembled painstakingly from wreckage brought back from Ukraine.
“This warhead fits the kind of missile that is installed in the BUK surface-to-air missile system.”
Russia had disputed the type of missile used, Joustra added.
While he insisted investigators had not pinned down the exact location of the missile’s launch site, maps shown to reporters clearly showed the area near Donetsk held by pro-Russian separatists.
Relatives earlier emerged visibly shaken after being privately briefed by Joustra in an conference centre in The Hague about the fate of the Boeing 777 which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it went down on July 17 last year.
The relatives were shown an animated reconstruction of the explosion and one of those present, Robby Oehlers, said investigators believed their loved ones had had no idea they were about to die. The haunting question had been one of the key focuses of the investigation.
“They told us there was a zero percent chance that the people inside felt anything or had any notion of what was happening,” Oehlers said. Joustra said passengers who were not killed by the impact of the missile would have been rendered unconscious by the sudden decompression of the aircraft and a lack of oxygen at 33,000 feet.
Oehlers said a wave of sadness had swept through the room. “They showed us the fragments that were inside the plane,” Oehlers said, adding in the room “it was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop.”
The long-awaited findings of the board focuses on four areas including “the cause of the crash", the issue of “flying over conflict areas” and why Dutch relatives waited two to four days before receiving confirmation that their loved ones were on board.
The Dutch Safety Board, which led an international team of investigators, has made 11 recommendations in the report, and insisted that countries in conflict must improve efforts to protect civilian aircraft.
But it has stressed its mandate was not to determine who pulled the trigger, amid a separate criminal probe by Dutch prosecutors.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on Russia to cooperate fully with the criminal investigation into who is responsible for the downing.
In Washington, the White House said the Dutch Safety Board’s report is an “important milestone in the effort to hold accountable those responsible” for the disaster.
“The United States will fully support all efforts to bring to justice those responsible. Our assessment is unchanged – MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. The victims and their loved ones remain in our thoughts and prayers,”National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Russia voiced "serious doubts" about the inquiry's aims.
“There remain serious doubts whether the genuine goal of an investigation conducted in the Netherlands is the establishment of true reasons behind the catastrophe, and not a justification of accusations that have been put forward in advance,” Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
The investigators said airlines flying over the war-torn area should have recognised the dangers and that Ukraine should have closed the air space over its east.
“We have concluded as a precaution there was sufficient reason for the Ukrainian authorities to close the air space above the eastern part of their country,” Joustra said.
Sixty-one airlines were flying over eastern Ukraine at the time of the disaster, the team said.
The findings were swiftly disputed by the missile maker Almaz-Antey, which has carried out its own tests into the crash.
The Russian company had performed a test which “disputes the version of the Dutch,” and the damage to the MH17 pointed to the use of an older type of missile. “The results of the experiment completely dispute the conclusions of the Dutch commission about the type of the rocket and the launch site,” said Yan Novikov, director of Almaz-Antey.
Ukraine and its allies in the West have consistently accused rebels of downing the jet with a BUK missile system that was likely supplied by Russia, which Moscow denies. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Tuesday blamed Russia’s security service. “I personally have no doubt that this was a planned operation of the Russian special services aimed at downing a civilian aircraft,” Yatsenyuk told a televised Cabinet meeting.
Reporters at the air base were also shown a partial reconstruction of the doomed plane, made from pieces of wreckage brought back from the crash site.
“Even if the report doesn’t name those responsible, it will still allow us to close some doors, to have some answers,” said Pierre Chardom, a Belgian who lost his 51-year-old brother Benoit in the crash.