For the second time in less than a year, the previously little known Malaysia Airlines is the subject of intense scrutiny after a mysterious crash. In March, Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared and has never been found. On July 17, Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down over a disputed area of the Ukraine. At this point, who shot the airliner down and why is not known.
According to Flight Aware, MH 17, another Boeing 777, departed from Amsterdam at 12:19 p.m. local time and was bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The 11.5 hour flight was estimated to arrive at 6:00 a.m. Malaysia time. Instead, Flight Aware’s tracking map shows the flight abruptly terminating over eastern Ukraine near the Black Sea.
According to early reports from NBC News, the plane, which was carrying 298 people, was cruising at 33,000 when it was attacked. Many of the passengers were Dutch nationals since the flight was operated under a code share with Royal Dutch Airlines. Malaysia was originally colonized by Holland in the 1600s. The International Business Times reports that the victims include 23 Americans.
The wreckage from the plane came to rest in several fields about 31 miles from the Russian border. Photos posted online show that the plane broke into a large number of small pieces. Yahoo reported that debris fields were reported to be at least six miles apart, indicating that the plane broke up in flight. There were no reports of survivors.
A miner who witnessed the crash told NBC that he saw a surface-to-air-missile strike the plane. Andrey Tarasenko said, “You know how you see a trail from a plane — it was the same, but it was a missile launched from the ground.” Tarasenko said he heard an explosion in the air seconds after he saw the missile’s smoke trail and then heard a larger explosion on the ground several seconds later.
Ukraine has been at war since February when Russian soldiers invaded the Crimea region in support of ethnic Russian separatists. On national television, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said, “I would like to draw your attention that we do not call it an incident, not a disaster, but we call it a terrorist act” according to NBC.
Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the tragedy saying that it “would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy” according to Yahoo.
Mounting evidence points to either Russia or the separatist militants supported by Russia being responsible for the attack. Ukraine released audio clips of intercepted communications between Russian and rebel commanders in which the rebels tell their Russian allies that “We have just shot down a plane.” Over the course of several calls, the rebels report that the airplane was civilian and unarmed.
Two days earlier, there were reports of another aircraft being shot down. According to Al Jazeera, on July 15, a Ukrainian Antonov 26 cargo plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine. All eight people on board survived. The An-26 was flying at about 20,000 feet when it was shot down by either a missile or a Russian fighter plane according to a Ukraine Security Council spokesman.
Two more Ukrainian attack jets were also attacked by missiles from Russia on Wednesday according to the Ukraine. One Sukhoi Su-25 was shot down and another was damaged, but both pilots survived according to ABC News.
According to Defense Tech, the most likely weapon to be used in the attack was the M-2 Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. Called the SA-11”Gadfly” by NATO, the Buck was developed in 1979 by the Soviet Union. The Buk has a range of up to 19 miles and can engage targets at altitudes up to 46,000 feet. It is not known for certain whether the Russians have supplied the rebels with Buk missile systems, which are mounted on tracked vehicles, but the Voice of Russia claimed in June that the Donetsk militia had taken control of Ukraine air defense base equipped with the missiles.
Several of the plane’s “black boxes” have already been recovered. Yahoo reports that most of the black boxes had been found by the rebels. Indications were that at least some of the boxes had been turned over to Russia.
Following the shootdown, Business Insider noted that Ukrainian airspace was largely empty. Much of the air traffic between Europe and Asia normally flies over the country, but most civilian traffic seemed to be staying clear of the disputed area.
Edited 7/18/14 5:00pm