The Danish Safety Board has determined that a Buk surface-to-air missile was used to take down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014. All 298 passengers were killed. At the time of the crash, analysts suggested that this particular missile system was likely used, but both Ukrainian and Russian officials accused the other of responsibility.
The gruesome details of the Dutch report, released Tuesday morning following a press conference led by safety board director Tjibbe Joustra, indicate that the missile detonated one meter above the cockpit, blasting deadly fragments into the crew. A large portion of the front fuselage ultimately sheared off.
Investigators were able to use discernible features like the blast fragment shapes, missile components, and the explosive compound, swabbed from the recovered cabin wreckage, to identify a specific warhead, the 9N314M. Manufactured by a Russian state-controlled weapons firm, Almaz-Antei, the Buk warhead was launched from a mobile missile system, requiring specialist knowledge of radar and missile-lock systems.
While Dutch investigators have stopped short of accusing anyone in particular of launching the weapon — Dutch criminal investigation will look into that— the same missile system was used by pro-Russia forces days before the MH17 crash to down a Ukrainian military aircraft. Separatists went out of their way to brag about using the Buk system.
The safety board did disapprove of Ukraine for allowing its air space to remain open in the days leading up to the crash. Multiple military aircraft were blown out of the sky in the days proceeding MH17’s journey, but nonetheless, 160 flights were permitted to cross over the hostile region. Officials with the airline claimed that the pilots brought the plane up to 33,000 feet over Ukraine, 1,000 feet higher than recommended. Despite this altitude, the Buk system is capable of striking crafts flying as high as 82,000 feet, as it was designed to intercept cruise missiles.
A majority of the passengers were believed to be killed or rendered unconscious immediately. An oxygen mask was discovered around the neck of at least one survivor, a detail previously unknown.
As the report stated, with terrifying understatement: “It could not be ascertained at which exact moment occupants died, but it is certain that the impact on the ground was not survivable.”
Malaysian Airlines had a bad 2014.