MH17: More doubts, no clear answers

WHEN the Dutch Safety Board released its final report on the MH17 crash last week, a 43-year-old song came to mind.

“There are more questions than answers and the more I find out the less I know.”

Johnny Nash sang the words in his reggae number, “There are more questions than answers”, one of the tunes from his chart-topping “I Can See Clearly Now” album in 1972.

They aptly describe the 279-page report on the shooting down of the Boeing 777 on July 17 last year.

In spite of the wide media coverage, the crucial questions remain unanswered by the report, which took 15 months to be completed.

MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine, a war zone where pro-Russian separatists and government forces were in the midst of fighting each other.

All 298 people on board, including 44 Malaysians, were killed in what is clearly the worst civilian airline disaster in recent history.

The DSB report states that the plane was shot down by a missile which exploded outside and above the left-hand side of the cockpit:

“The aeroplane was struck by a 9N314M warhead as carried on a 9M38-series missile and launched by a BUK surface-to-air missile system.

“This conclusion is based on the combination of the following: The recorded sound peak, the damage pattern found on the wreckage caused by the blast and the impact of the fragments, the bow-tie and cubic shaped fragments found in the cockpit and in the bodies of the crew members in the cockpit, the injuries sustained by three crew members, the analysis of the in-flight break-up, the analysis of the explosive residues and paint found and the size and distinct, bow-tie, shape of some of the fragments, ” it said.

Russian missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey, however, presented the results of two experimental explosions recreating the MH17 crash to show that the missile which downed the flight was the older 9N314 BUK model.

The tests showed that an explosion from the new 9N314M would leave distinctive “butterfly-shaped” puncture holes due to the shape of the shrapnel.

“The Boeing 777, which carried out the flight, did not have a single hole like this and this absolutely excludes the possibility of a missile with double T-shaped shrapnel being used to strike this aircraft,” the company said in a statement.

According to Almaz-Antey, the Ru­s­sian army had not been using BUK missiles with 9N314 warheads and their production was halted in 1982.

It said there were still 991 missiles armed with the older warheads in Ukraine as of 2005.

Almaz-Antey also said that the launch site of the missile, based on its calculations, was Zaroshchens­koye, a village located 7km south of Shakhtorsk, which was under the control of the Ukrainian army.

The DSB report did not state where the missile was launched from. Instead, it identified a huge area of 320 square km from where it could have been fired.

It also did not disclose wh­­i­ch side of the warring parties had control of the identified territory.

But Tjibbe Joustra, the chairman of the inquiry who refused to take questions after releasing the report, later told Dutch journalists that the missile was launched from a much smaller area in territory held by the rebels.

In a later TV interview, he refused to answer questions about United St­­ates’ satellite data and whether he or the other investigators had seen it. All he said was that he had seen “something which had convinced” him.

Why was there no mention of the US data in the form of radar tracks and satellite images? Was it offered to the board?

Let’s recall what US Secretary of State John Kerry said three days after the downing of MH17.

He told NPC’s ‘Meet the Press’ pro­­g­­r­­a­­mme: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory.

“We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

According to reports then, the US had surveillance planes flying over the nearby North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) member states Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

It also had signal monitoring ships in the Black Sea in addition to a satellite monitoring the war zone.

Surely the US must have known who had fired the missile and if it did, as declared by Kerry, why is that not part of the DSB report?

Leaving out the obvious raises more questions on the credibility of the inquiry, especially when it blamed Russia for not providing raw data of its radar systems.

Russia did not provide the radar data, saying no radar data was saved, but provided the radar screen video replay, which showed combined surveillance primary and secondary radar.

The report said, in the absence of the underlying raw data, the video information could not be verified.

DSB did not examine Ukrainian military radar systems because they were apparently down due to maintenance, even though a war was going on.

The report, however, criticised Ukraine for not closing its airspace for civilian flights even after 16 military aircraft and helicopters had been shot down in the crash area before MH17 was downed.

DSB’ investigation did not deal with the question of blame and culpability.

This would be determined by a separate criminal investigation by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

JIT’s lead prosecutor Fred West­erbeke has said that the probe could continue into 2016, as gathering witness accounts from a conflict zone was difficult and time-consuming.

He also said further forensic investigation was needed to establish exactly where the warhead that downed MH17 was fired from.

Who shot down flight MH17? How long must we wait before this elemental question is answered?

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Mark Twain:

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

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Opinion , M. Veere Pandiyan , columnist


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