THE HAGUE (AFP) - Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that crashed over rebel-held eastern Ukraine split into pieces during flight after being hit by numerous "high-energy" objects, said a report released by the Netherlands on Tuesday that appears to back up claims that it was hit by a missile.
"Flight MH17... operated by Malaysia Airlines broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside," said the preliminary report into the disaster that claimed 298 lives, most of them Dutch citizens.
The report, which comes almost two months after MH17 was went down, also said the Boeing 777-200 was airworthy when it took off from Amsterdam and was staffed by a "qualified and experienced crew". "There were no technical problems," the 34-page report stated.
The report said the fact that the plane was hit by high-energy objects "explains the abrupt end to data registration on the recorders, the simultaneous loss of contact with air traffic control and the aircraft's disappearance from radar".
"The initial results of the investigation point towards an external cause of the MH17 crash," said Mr Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the OVV safety board.
"More research will be necessary to determine the cause with greater precision," he said, adding that a final report was expected within a year of the crash.
The findings appear to back up claims that the Boeing 777 was hit by shrapnel from a missile.
"There are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew," the report added.
The Boeing was blown out of the sky over eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, killing all on board including 193 Dutch citizens.
Kiev and the West accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air missile supplied by Moscow.
But the insurgents again denied any role.
"I can say only one thing: we simply do not have the military hardware capable of shooting down a Boeing passenger jet such as the Malaysian plane," Mr Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told Russia's Interfax news agency.
Russia, which denies mounting Western claims of direct involvement in the five-month conflict in Ukraine, has blamed government forces for the attack.
The Netherlands on Tuesday released the highly anticipated interim report into the downing of the plane, with hopes that it will shed light on the disaster.
The air crash team led by Dutch investigators announced its findings, but the report will not apportion any blame.
"We investigate the cause of the accident and not who's responsible," Ms Sara Vernooij, spokeman for the Dutch Safety Board OVV, told AFP.
The MH17 disaster was the second tragedy for Malaysia Airlines after the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 in March, and threw the global spotlight back on the bloody uprising in eastern Ukraine.
The report is being issued just days after a ceasefire backed by Kiev and Moscow came into force on Friday to try to end a war that has killed over 2,700 people and sent at least half a million fleeing their homes.
Dutch investigators have been unable to visit the site in the Donetsk region because of the fighting, and have relied on information from Ukrainian crash specialists for information from the scene.
Investigators are expected to make findings based on information from the aircraft's black boxes, and pictures and video taken at the scene, as well as information supplied by Ukranian air traffic control.
The black boxes have been shipped to Farnborough in Britain to be examined by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
The OVV said the preliminary findings will be "factual information based on sources available to the OVV", with a full report not expected until until mid-2015.
Shortly after the crash, forensic experts travelled to the site to collect body parts, but the search has also been suspended due to heavy fighting in the area.
So far 193 victims of flight MH17 have been identified.
Air crash investigators hope they may be able to return to the crash site if a ceasefire agreed on Friday between the Ukraine government and the separatist rebels holds.