MH17 Malaysia plane crash in Ukraine: What we know

  • 9 September 2014
  • From the section Europe

All 298 people on board a Malaysia Airlines plane died after the airliner crashed in eastern Ukraine, close to the border with Russia.

Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was travelling over the conflict-hit region when it disappeared from radar. A total of 283 passengers, including 80 children, and 15 crew members were on board.

What type of plane was it?

The crashed plane was a Boeing 777-200ER, the same model as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March.

The aircraft, manufactured in 1997, had a clean maintenance record and its last check was on 11 July, Malaysia Airlines said.

Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down.

What happened?

According to Dutch air accident investigators, the plane departed from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at 10:31 GMT (12:31 local time) on 17 July and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 22:10 GMT (06:10 local time).

In its preliminary report, the Dutch Safety Board said the plane lost contact with air traffic control at 13:20 GMT, when it was about 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Malaysia Airlines had initially said that the plane lost contact at 14:15 GMT.

Footage later emerged of the crash site in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists, and witnesses spoke of dozens of bodies on the ground.

Debris from the plane is strewn over several kilometres

What caused the crash?

Western nations said there was growing evidence that the plane was hit by a Russian-supplied missile fired by rebels. Russia blamed Ukrainian government forces.

US officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said there was a "solid case" that a SA-11 missile - also known as Buk - was fired from eastern Ukraine under "conditions the Russians helped create".

Buk surface-to-air missile system

They said the "most plausible explanation" for the shooting down of the plane was that rebels mistook it for another aircraft.

Evidence included images purportedly showing a surface-to-air missile launcher in the area, analysis of voice recordings of pro-Russian rebels apparently admitting bringing the airliner down and social-media activity pointing to rebel involvement.

The evidence also included satellite images of a facility allegedly used to train rebels near the Russian city of Rostov, which were later tweeted by Geoffrey Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine.

Russia, however, denied all allegations it supplied weaponry to the rebels and has instead suggested a Ukrainian military plane had flown within firing range of the airliner just before it came down. The Ukrainian government rejected the claims.

Experts say flight crash investigators should be able to determine what caused the crash from traces left on the debris.

The preliminary report from the Dutch team said MH17 broke up in mid-air after being hit by "numerous objects" that "pierced the plane at high velocity" from outside the cabin and above the level of the cockpit floor.

There was "no evidence of technical or human error", it added.

How a missile could have brought down MH17

Who was on board?

Belongings of passengers on MH17, including books and toiletries

Malaysia Airlines' passenger list shows flight MH17 was carrying 193 Dutch nationals (including one with dual US nationality), 43 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons (including one with dual South African citizenship).

There were also four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one New Zealander on board.

At least six of those killed were delegates on their way to an international conference on Aids in Melbourne, Australia.

Professor Joep Lange - a prominent scientist and a former president of the International Aids Society (IAS), was among those who died.

His colleagues have described him as "a great clinical scientist" and "a wonderful person and a great professional".

Other stories of passengers and crew emerging include a Malaysia-Dutch family of five, a Dutch couple on their way to Bali, an Australian pathologist and his wife returning from a European holiday, as well as a Malaysian flight steward whose wife - who also works for Malaysia Airlines - had narrowly escaped death when she pulled out of a shift working on missing flight MH370.

Was it safe to fly over Ukraine?

Malaysia Airlines' senior vice-president Europe, Huib Gorter, said the flight route had been declared safe by the authorities, was being used by many other airlines and was not subject to any restrictions.

Although the area where the jet crashed had a no-fly zone in place up to 9,754m (32,000ft), the airliner was flying above the limit at 10,058m (33,000ft).

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority says airlines' decisions on whether to fly over conflict zones will be based on a range of factors - advice from the Foreign Office, warnings in the area, weather, navigation aids, strikes and which airports are out of action.

In the 48 hours running up to the MH17 crash, many airlines had chosen to keep flying in the area, as data from flight tracker Planefinder shows.

According to Flight radar24, which also monitors live flight paths, the airlines that most frequently flew over Donetsk in the last week were: Aeroflot (86 flights), Singapore Airlines (75), Ukraine International Airlines (62), Lufthansa (56), and Malaysia Airlines (48).

At the time of the MH17 crash on 17 July, a number of other flights were in the area.

Selected flights over eastern Ukraine on the afternoon of 17 July

What about the plane's black boxes?

Pro-Russian separatists handed over the plane's "black box" flight recorders to Malaysian investigators, who in turn passed them on to Dutch authorities.

The head of the Malaysian delegation said the recorders were "in good condition".

The devices were sent to Farnborough in the UK for analysis.

The recorders - actually coloured a deep orange to aid discovery - store key technical information about the flight as well as conversations in the cockpit.

According to the Dutch Safety Board, the flight data recorder showed that "all engine parameters were normal for cruise flight" until the recording "stopped abruptly at 13.20:03 hrs".

No spoken warnings were found on the cockpit voice recorder.

The Dutch investigators said there was no evidence that the flight recorders had been tampered with.

Who is investigating?

Monitors at the crash site have not been able to move freely

Responsibility for the investigation belongs to the state within which an incident occurs, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

As such, the Ukrainian government initiated the probe, but invited Malaysia to participate.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - whose job it is to observe the site ahead of the arrival of investigators - were the first team to visit the debris zone, however their movements were restricted by militiamen.

A Malaysian team of 133 officials and experts, comprising search and recovery personnel, forensics experts, technical and medical experts also travelled to Ukraine.

But the Dutch Safety Board is now leading an international probe to try to piece together evidence on what happened.

Experts from the UK, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, the US, Ukraine and Russia are collaborating on the case.

The board says it expects the final report to be published within a year.

Wreckage is scattered across a radius of at least 2km (1.2 miles), with reports of some items being found even further afield.

Satellite image shows spread of MH17 debris near Grabove

  • Satellite image of MH17 debris

  • Crash site near village


    Satellite images taken by DigitalGlobe on 20 July appear to show the large debris field near the village of Grabove.

  • Debris in field


    About 700 metres (2,296ft) down the road from the village is another patch where bodies and debris have been found.

  • Tail piece


    A piece of Flight MH17's tail, with the Malaysia Airlines marking, is seen lying on its own about 100m (330ft) south of the other debris.

There was international outcry over the way rebels handled the situation, leaving passengers' remains exposed to summer heat and allowing untrained volunteers to comb through the area.