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Airline Disasters

Families of Malaysian Airlines MH17 crash victims share their feelings in murder trial


Story by Ralph Metcalf - The Oregon Herald
Published on September 17, 2021 12:52 AM
 
 
More than a hundred bodies have been found so far, with some located as far as 6.2 miles (10 km) away from the crash site. “I found one body that went through the roof of a house and landed in someone’s bedroom,” says Sessini. “It’s a real nightmare.” “One of the saddest parts was to see all of their luggage in the grass,” he says. “All these Duty Free bags, the swimsuits, the children’s books.”
 
AMSTERDAM - Many relatives of the more than 300 passengers and crew victims of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, are scheduled to give testimony on Monday at the murder trial of four fugitive suspects accused of carrying out the attack.

Airlines MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a Russian surface-to-air missile.

Three Russians and a Ukrainian citizen are charged with key roles in the separatist forces. They are on trial for murder. Moscow has refused to extradite those in Russia and denies all responsibility. The Dutch government holds Moscow responsible.

The plane crashed in a field in territory held by pro-Russian separatists fighting against Ukrainian forces.

The court has scheduled three weeks to hear the relatives speak and will also review around a hundred written statements provided by other family members.

Ria van der Steen will be the first of 90 relatives from eight countries who will be allowed to address judges and defense lawyers about the impact of the crash on their lives.

After years of collecting evidence, a team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the launcher used to fire the missile belonged to Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

The fugitive suspects have been on trial for a year and a half. Only one sent lawyers to represent him so the case is not considered to be entirely tried in absentia under Dutch law.

Proceedings moved to a critical stage in June when prosecutors began presenting evidence and will start calling witnesses.

BACKGROUND

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17 or MAS17)

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17((MH17 or MAS17) was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed. Contact with the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, was lost when it was about 50 km from the Ukraine–Russia border, and wreckage of the aircraft fell near Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 40 km from the border. The shoot-down occurred in the War in Donbas in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels. The responsibility for investigation was delegated to the Dutch Safety Board and the Dutch-led joint investigation team , who concluded that the airliner was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. According to the JIT, the Buk that was used originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Federation and had been transported from Russia on the day of the crash, fired from a field in a rebel-controlled area and returned to Russia afterwards. The findings by the DSB and JIT are consistent with the earlier claims by American and German intelligence sources and claims by the Ukrainian government. On the basis of the JIT's conclusions, the governments of the Netherlands and Australia held Russia responsible for the deployment of the Buk installation and were pursuing legal routes as of May 2018. The Russian government denied involvement in the shooting down of the airplane, and its account of how the aircraft was shot down has varied over time. Coverage in Russian media has also differed from that in other countries.

This was Malaysia Airlines' second aircraft loss during 2014, after the disappearance of Flight 370 on 8 March, and is the deadliest airliner shoot-down incident to date.

Passengers and crew
The incident is the deadliest airliner shoot-down incident to date. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died.:?27? By 19 July, the airline had determined the nationalities of all 298 passengers and crew. The crew were all Malaysian, while over two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch. Most of the other passengers were Malaysians and Australians; the remainder were citizens of seven other countries.:?27?

Among the passengers were delegates en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, including Joep Lange, a former president of the International AIDS Society, which organised the conference. Many initial reports had erroneously indicated that around 100 delegates to the conference were aboard, but this was later revised to six. Also on board were Dutch Senator Willem Witteveen, Australian author Liam Davison, and At least twenty family groups were on the aircraft and eighty passengers were under the age of 18.

The flight crew were captains Wan Amran Wan Hussin and Eugene Choo Jin Leong, and first officers Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi and Muhd Firdaus Abdul Rahim.

An armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine led some airlines to avoid eastern Ukrainian airspace in early March 2014 due to safety concerns. In the months prior to 17 July, reports circulated in the media on the presence of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, in the hands of the rebels that were fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine. On 26 May a spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces stated that a surface-to-air missile system that was being used by the rebels near Donetsk airport had been destroyed by a helicopter of the Ukrainian army. On 6 June 2014 The International New York Times reported that surface-to-air missiles had been seized from military bases. On 11 June the newspaper Argumenty nedeli reported that a Buk-M1 missile launcher had been present in an area under the separatists' control. On 29 June the Russian news agencies reported that insurgents had obtained a Buk missile system after having taken control of a Ukrainian military unit A-1402; the Donetsk People's Republic claimed possession of such a system in a since-deleted tweet. Such air defence systems cannot reliably identify and avoid civilian aircraft. The Ukrainian authorities declared in the media that this system was not operational.:?187–188? According to the subsequent statement of the Security Service of Ukraine three Buk missile systems were located on Ukrainian territory controlled by militia at the time that Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down. On the night following the downing of MH17, two Buk launcher vehicles, one of which carried three missiles, , was observed moving into Russia.

Several aircraft from the Ukrainian Air Force were shot down in the months and days preceding the MH17 incident. On 14 June 2014, a Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 military transport was shot down on approach to Luhansk International Airport, with loss of nine crew members and forty troops.:?183? On 14 July 2014, a Ukrainian Air Force An-26 transport aircraft flying at 6,500 m was shot down.:?183? The militia reportedly claimed via social media that a Buk missile launcher, which they had previously seized and made operational, had been used to bring down the aircraft. American officials later said evidence suggested the aircraft had been shot down from Russian territory.

On 16 July, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine reported that at about 13:00 local time terrorists used MANPADs against a Su-25 jet which was performing a flight mission in the ATO zone. According to the report, the airplane received minor damage and was forced to make a landing. Later, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine reported on the second Su-25 that was attacked on the same day at about 19:00 local time near the Ukrainian-Russian border in the area of Amvrosiivka. According to the details reported by Ukraine's RNBO spokesperson Andriy Lysenko, the Ukrainian Su-25 was shot down by an R-27T medium range air-to-air missile fired by a MiG-29 jet from Russian territory while the Su-25 was at an altitude of 8,250 m.:?185? The Russian Defence Ministry said that the accusations were false. In response to additional questions by the Dutch Safety Board, the Ukrainian authorities reported that a 'provisional investigation' had revealed that the airplane had been shot down while flying at an altitude of 6,250 m. Ukrainian authorities also thought that the Su-25 could have been shot down with a Pantsir missile system from Russian territory, though they thought this less likely.:?185?

On 17 July, an Associated Press journalist saw a Buk launcher in Snizhne, in Donetsk Oblast, 16 kilometres southeast of the crash site. The reporter also saw seven separatist tanks near the town. Associated Press journalists reported that the Buk M-1 was operated by a man 'with unfamiliar fatigues and a distinctive Russian accent' escorted by two civilian vehicles. The battle around Savur-Mohyla has been suggested as the possible context within which the missile that brought down MH17 was fired, as separatists deployed increasingly sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry in this battle, and had brought down several Ukrainian jets in July.

In April, the International Civil Aviation Organization had warned governments that there was a risk to commercial passenger flights over south-eastern Ukraine.:?217? The American Federal Aviation Administration issued restrictions on flights over Crimea, to the south of MH17's route, and advised airlines flying over some other parts of Ukraine to 'exercise extreme caution'. This warning did not include the MH17 crash region. 37 airlines continued overflying eastern Ukraine and about 900 flights crossed the Donetsk region in the seven days before the Boeing 777 was shot down. On 17 July at 00:00 Russian air traffic controllers closed the airspace in the adjacent area over Russia below 53,000 feet . Long-distance flights typically travel at altitudes of 33,000 to 44,000 feet, so this restriction effectively closed their airspace to civilian overflights. The reason given was 'armed conflict in Ukraine'. The Dutch Safety Board asked for, but did not receive, a more detailed explanation for this restriction.

The airspace above Donetsk was managed by Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities imposed restrictions for flights under 32,000 feet , but did not consider closing the airspace to civil aviation completely.:?10? As with other countries, Ukraine receives overflight fees for commercial aircraft that fly through their territory and this may have contributed to the continued availability of civilian flight paths through the conflict zone. However, the Netherlands, where the majority of investigation was conducted, did not hold Ukraine accountable for not closing its airspace due to lack of evidence that it should have been done.

Crash

Route of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Routes of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Singapore Airlines Flight 351 , including airspace restrictions On Thursday, 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 departed from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Gate G3 at 12:13 CEST :?23? and took off at 12:31 local time . It was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 06:10 MYT, Friday, 18 July .

According to the original flight plan, MH17 was to fly over Ukraine at flight level 330 and then change to FL 350 around the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk. When it reached the area as planned, at 15:53 local time , Dnipropetrovsk Air Control asked MH17 if they could climb to FL 350 as planned, and also to maintain separation from another flight, Singapore Airlines Flight 351 , also at FL 330. The crew asked to remain at FL 330 and the air traffic controller approved this request, moving the other flight to FL 350. At 16:00 local time , the crew asked for a deviation of 20 nautical miles to the left off course, on airway L980, due to weather conditions. This request was also approved by Dnipro Control ATC. The crew then asked if they could climb to FL 340, which was rejected as this flight level was not available, so MH17 remained at FL 330. At 16:19 local time , Dnipro Control noticed that the flight was 3.6 nautical miles north of the centreline of its approved airway and instructed MH17 to return to the track. At 16:19 local time , Dnipro Control contacted Russian ATC in Rostov-on-Don by telephone and requested clearance to transfer the flight to Russian airspace. After obtaining permission, Dnipro Control attempted to contact MH17 for handing them off to RND Control at 16:20 local time , but the aircraft did not respond. When MH17 did not respond to several calls, Dnipro Control contacted RND Control again to check if they could see the aircraft on their radar. RND Control confirmed that the airliner had disappeared.

The Dutch Safety Board reported a last flight data recording at 16:20 local time , located west of the urban-type settlement Rozsypne , near Hrabove heading east-southeast at 494 knots .

At 16:20:03 local time a Buk ground-to-air missile, which had been launched from an area east from the aircraft, detonated outside the aircraft just above the cockpit to the left. An explosive decompression occurred, resulting in both the cockpit and tail sections tearing away from the middle portion of the fuselage. All three sections disintegrated as they fell towards the ground.

Most of the debris landed near Hrabove, north of Torez in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast; it spread over a 50 square kilometres area to the southwest of Hrabove.:?53? The fireball on impact is believed to have been captured on video. Photographs from the site of the crash show scattered pieces of broken fuselage and engine parts, bodies, and passports. Some of the wreckage fell close to houses. Dozens of bodies fell into crop fields, and some fell into houses.

Three other commercial aircraft were in the same area when the Malaysian airliner crashed: Air India Flight 113 , a Boeing 787 en route from Delhi to Birmingham, EVA Air Flight 88 , a Boeing 777 en route from Paris to Taipei, and the closest aircraft, Singapore Airlines Flight 351 , was 33 kilometres away, a Boeing 777 en route from Copenhagen to Singapore.:?41?

Recovery of bodies

First arrival of bodies at Eindhoven Airport A Ukraine Foreign Ministry representative said that the bodies found at the crash site would be taken to Kharkiv for identification, 270 kilometres to the north. By the day after the crash, 181 of the 298 bodies had been found. Some were observed being placed in body bags and loaded onto trucks.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte initially complained about looting of personal belongings from the dead and the careless handling of their bodies, but later stated they had been handled with more care than originally thought. Other media complained that credit and debit cards were being looted, and there were accusations that evidence at the crash site had been destroyed. The Guardian noted that tales of looting seemed to be exaggerated, but the chaos at the crash site risked the accidental destruction of evidence which, the paper contended, journalists were contributing to.

On 20 July, Ukrainian emergency workers, observed by armed pro-Russian separatists, began loading the remains of the passengers of MH17 into refrigerated railway wagons for transport and identification.

On 21 July, pro-Russian rebels allowed Dutch investigators to examine the bodies. By this time, 272 bodies had been recovered, according to Ukrainian officials. Remains left Torez on a train on the evening of 21 July, en route to Kharkiv to be flown to the Netherlands for identification. On the same day, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Malaysian government had reached a tentative agreement to retrieve the remains of the Malaysians who died in the crash, following any necessary forensic work.

Convoy of 40 hearses heading to Hilversum, while other traffic stopped It was reported on 21 July that with 282 bodies and 87 body fragments found, there were still 16 bodies missing. An agreement had been reached that the Netherlands would co-ordinate the identification effort. A train carrying the bodies arrived at the Malyshev Factory, Kharkiv on 22 July. Dutch authorities stated that they found 200 bodies on the train when it arrived at Kharkhiv, leaving almost 100 unaccounted for. In late July, the UK Metropolitan Police sent specialist officers to Ukraine to assist with the recovery, identification and repatriation of bodies.

The first remains were flown to Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 23 July, moved there with Dutch air force C-130 and Australian C-17 transport aircraft, which landed at Eindhoven Airport just before 16:00 local time. The day after, another 74 bodies arrived. The examination and identification of the bodies was conducted at the Netherlands Army medical regiment training facility in Hilversum and was coordinated by a Dutch forensic team.

On 1 August it was announced that a search and recovery mission, including about 80 forensic police specialists from the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia, and led by Colonel Cornelis Kuijs of the Royal Marechaussee, would use drones, sniffer dogs, divers and satellite mapping to search for missing body parts at the crash site. Australian officials had believed that as many as 80 bodies were still at the site, but after some days of searching the international team had 'found remains of only a few victims' and concluded that 'the recovery effort undertaken by local authorities immediately after the crash was more thorough than initially thought.'

On 6 August the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the recovery operation would be temporarily halted due to an upsurge in fighting around the crash site threatening the safety of crash investigators and recovery specialists, and that all international investigators and humanitarian forces conducting searches would leave the country leaving behind a small communications and liaison team.

On 22 August the bodies of 20 Malaysians arrived in Malaysia. The government announced a National Mourning Day, with a ceremony broadcast live on radio and television.

On 9 October a spokesman for the Dutch national prosecutor's office stated that one victim had been found with an oxygen mask around his neck; a forensic investigation of the mask for fingerprints, saliva and DNA did not produce any results and it is therefore not known how or when the mask got around the neck of the victim.:?99?

By 5 December 2014, the Dutch-led forensic team had identified the bodies of 292 out of 298 victims of the crash. In February and April 2015 new remains were found on the site, after which only two victims, both Dutch citizens, had not been identified.

Aftermath About 90 minutes after the incident, Ukraine closed all routes in Eastern Ukrainian airspace, at all altitudes.:?101? The incident dramatically heightened fears about airliner shoot-downs, leading to some airlines announcing they would avoid overflying conflict zones.

Shortly after the crash, it was announced that Malaysia Airlines would retire flight number MH17 and change the Amsterdam–Kuala Lumpur route to flight number MH19 beginning on 25 July 2014, with the outbound flight unchanged. In association with the retirement of the Boeing 777 aircraft type from Malaysia Airlines' fleet, Malaysia Airlines ended its service to Amsterdam on 25 January 2016, opting to codeshare with KLM on the KUL-AMS route for the services instead. On 18 July 2014, shares in Malaysia Airlines dropped by nearly 16%.

On 23 July 2014, two Ukrainian military jets were hit by missiles at the altitude of 17,000 feet close to the area of the MH17 crash. According to the Ukrainian Security Council, preliminary information indicated that the missiles came from Russia.

In July 2015, Malaysia proposed that the United Nations Security Council set up an international tribunal to prosecute those deemed responsible for the downing of the aircraft. The Malaysian resolution received the support of 11 of the 15 members in the Council, with three abstentions. The resolution was vetoed by Russia. The Russian government proposed an alternative draft resolution, which would not have set up a tribunal.

On 9 June 2016, a Russian businessman claimed that the shooting down of the airliner put an end to the possibility of a creation of a pro-Russian Novorossiya confederation and prolonged the War in Donbass.

Investigation Two parallel investigations were led by the Dutch, one into the technical cause of the crash, and a separate criminal inquiry. The technical report was released on 13 October 2015, and the criminal investigation reported some of their findings in September 2016. According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the country in which an aviation incident occurs is responsible for the investigation, but that country may delegate the investigation to another state; Ukraine has delegated the leadership of both investigations to the Netherlands.

On-site investigation In the hours following the crash, a meeting was convened of the Trilateral Contact Group. After they had held a video conference with representatives of insurgents affiliated with the Donetsk People's Republic , the rebels promised to 'provide safe access and security guarantees' to 'the national investigation commission' by co-operating with Ukrainian authorities and OSCE monitors. During the first two days of investigation, the militants prevented the OSCE and the workers of Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry from freely working at the crash site. Andrei Purgin, a leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, declared later that 'we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene as soon as Kiev concludes a ceasefire agreement'.

Dutch and Australian police at the crash site on 3 August 2014 By 18 July 2014, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder had been recovered by separatists, and three days later were handed over to Malaysian officials in Donetsk.:?44? The voice recorder was damaged but there was no evidence that data had been tampered with.:?45?

The National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine, which led investigations, both off- and on-site, during the first days after the crash, had by August 2014 delegated the investigation to the DSB because of the large number of Dutch passengers and the flight having originated in Amsterdam.:?14?

On 22 July 2014, a Malaysian team of 133 officials, search and recovery personnel, and forensics, technical and medical experts arrived in Ukraine. Also Australia sent a 45-member panel headed by former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who had earlier supervised the MH 370 probe. Approximately 200 special forces soldiers from Australia were also deployed to provide support for the JIT investigators. The United Kingdom sent six investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the UK Foreign Office sent extra consular staff to Ukraine. It took until late July before the full international team could start working at the crash site, under the leadership of the Dutch Ministry of Defence.

On 30 July 2014, a Ukrainian representative said that pro-Russian rebels had mined approaches to the crash site and moved heavy artillery.

On 6 August 2014, the experts left the crash site due to concerns about their safety. In mid-September they unsuccessfully attempted to regain access to the site. On 13 October 2014, a Dutch-Ukrainian team resumed recovery of victims' personal belongings. In mid-November 2014, work was undertaken to remove part of the wreckage from the crash site. Earlier efforts by the recovery team to salvage the MH17 wreckage had been frustrated by disagreements with the local rebels. The recovery operation took a week. The debris was transported to the Netherlands where investigators reconstructed parts of the aircraft.

In August 2015, possible Buk missile launcher parts were found at the crash site by the Dutch-led joint investigation team .

Cause of the crash

A mobile Buk surface-to-air missile launcher, similar to that used in the incident External audio icon Pro-Russian rebels discuss the shooting down of an aircraft on YouTube Intercepted phone calls, verified with voice recognition by the U.S. National Security Agency, between rebels discussing which rebel group shot down the aircraft and initial reports that it was a civilian aircraft. Audio released by the Security Service of Ukraine with English subtitles.

Soon after the crash both American and Ukrainian officials said that a 9M38 series surface-to-air missile strike was the most likely cause. If so, then the missile was fired from a mobile Soviet-designed Buk missile system . At the time, Buk was the only surface-to-air missile system known to be deployed in the region that was capable of reaching the cruising altitude of commercial air traffic. Such systems, unless they receive information from larger networks, have limited capacity to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft.

According to defence analyst Reed Foster , the contour of the aluminium and the blistering of the paint around many of the holes on the aircraft fragments indicate that small, high-velocity fragments entered the aircraft externally, a damage pattern indicative of an SA-11. Ballistics specialist Stephan Fruhling of the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre concurred with this, explaining that since it struck the cockpit rather than an engine it was probably a radar guided, rather than heat seeking, missile equipped with a proximity fuzed warhead such as an SA-11.

Shortly after the crash, Igor Girkin, leader of the Donbass separatists, was reported to have posted on social media network VKontakte, taking credit for downing a Ukrainian An-26. This news was repeated by channels in Russia, with LifeNews reporting 'a new victory of Donetsk self-defence who shot down yet another Ukrainian airplane'. Russian news agency TASS also reported eyewitness accounts claiming that the Donbass militia had just shot down a Ukrainian An-26 military aircraft with a missile. The separatists later denied involvement, saying they did not have the equipment or training to hit a target at that altitude. Russian media also reported that Alexander Borodai called one of the Moscow media managers 40 minutes after the crash, saying that 'likely we shot down a civilian airliner'.

Witnesses in Torez reported sightings on the day of the incident of what appeared to be a Buk missile launcher, and AP journalists reported sightings of a Buk system in separatist controlled Snizhne. The witness reports backed up photographs and videos which had been posted online, of the Buk launcher in rebel-held territory.

On 19 July 2014, Vitaly Nayda, the chief of the Counter Intelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine , told a news conference, 'We have compelling evidence that this terrorist act was committed with the help of the Russian Federation. We know clearly that the crew of this system were Russian citizens.' He cited what he said were recorded conversations in which separatists expressed satisfaction to Russian intelligence agents that they had brought down an aircraft. One of the separatists acknowledged that the conversations had taken place, but denied that they were related to the crash of MH17 and blamed the Ukrainian government for shooting it down. According to Nayda, a Buk launcher used in the shoot-down was moved back into Russia the night after the attack. The SBU released another recording, which they said was of pro-Russian-separatist leader Igor Bezler being told of an approaching aircraft two minutes before MH17 was shot down. Bezler said the recording was real, but referred to a different incident. The head of the SBU, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, later claimed that rebels had intended to shoot down a Russian airliner in a false flag operation to give Russia a pretext to invade Ukraine, but shot down MH17 by mistake.

Journalists from the Associated Press in Snizhne, Ukraine reported seeing a Buk M-1 enter the town operated by a man 'with unfamiliar fatigues and a distinctive Russian accent' escorted by two civilian vehicles, which then moved off in the direction where the shoot-down later occurred. According to Ukrainian counterterrorism chief, Vitaly Nayda, after downing the airliner under separatist direction, the launcher's Russian crew quickly moved it back across the border into Russia.

American officials said that satellite data from infrared sensors detected the explosion of Flight MH17. American intelligence agencies said that analysis of the launch plume and trajectory suggested the missile was fired from an area near Torez and Snizhne. The Daily Telegraph said: 'The Telegraph's own inquiries suggest the missile, an SA-11 from a Buk mobile rocket launcher, was possibly fired from a cornfield about 19 kilometres to the south of the epicentre of the crash site.' Other sources suggest the missile was launched from the separatist-controlled town of Chernukhino. Several other media outlets including The Guardian, The Washington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald, reported that the aircraft was believed to have been downed by a rebel-fired missile.

On 28 July 2014, Ukrainian security official Andriy Lysenko announced, at a press conference, that black box recorder analysis had revealed that the aircraft had been brought down by shrapnel that caused 'massive explosive decompression.' Dutch officials were reported to be 'stunned' by what they saw as a 'premature announcement' and said that they had not provided this information.

On 8 September 2014, the BBC released new material by John Sweeney who cited three civilian witnesses from Donbass who saw the Buk launcher in the rebel-controlled territory on the day when MH17 crashed. Two witnesses said the crew of the launcher and a military vehicle escorting it spoke with Moscow accents. On the same day Ignat Ostanin, a Russian journalist, published an analysis of photos and films of Buk units moving in Russia and Ukraine in the days before and after the MH17 crash. According to Ostanin, the markings on the specific launcher suspected of being used to shoot MH17, together with the number plates of the large goods vehicle that carried the launcher, suggested that it belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Air Defence Forces of the Russian Ground Forces.

On 8 October 2014 the president of the German Federal Intelligence Service gave a presentation about MH17 to a German parliamentary committee overseeing intelligence activities. According to Der Spiegel, the report contained a detailed analysis which concluded that pro-Russian separatists had used a captured Ukrainian Buk system to shoot down Flight MH17. The report also noted that 'Russian claims the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been flying close to the passenger jet were false'. The Attorney General of Germany opened an investigation against unknown persons due to a suspected war crime.

Between November 2014 and May 2016, UK-based investigative collective Bellingcat made a series of claims, based on their examination of photos in social media and other open-source information. Bellingcat said that the launcher used to shoot down the aircraft was a Buk of the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk, which had been transported from Donetsk to Snizhne and was controlled by separatists in Ukraine on the day of the attack, and that the Buk launcher had a serial number 332.

On 22 December 2014 the Dutch news service RTL Nieuws published a statement from an unnamed local resident who said he had witnessed the shooting down of MH17, which he said was shot down by a missile from rebel territory. He had taken photographs which he had passed to the SBU.

In January 2015 a report produced by the German investigative team CORRECT!V concluded a Buk surface-to-air missile launcher operated by the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade shot down MH17. Other circumstantial evidence was presented separately by various parties that supported this version, identifying specific launcher vehicle, operator name, truck transporting it and its alleged route through Russia and Ukraine.

In March 2015 Reuters published statements from named witnesses from Chervonyi Zhovten , close to Torez and Snizhne, who said they saw the Buk rocket passing over the village when it was fired from a field around 1.5 km away. It also published a statement from a witness who was said to be a separatist fighter who confirmed that the launcher was placed in that area on the day of the Boeing crash to prevent Ukrainian airstrikes.

In July 2015, News Corp Australia published the transcript of a 17-minute video recorded at the scene shortly after the crash. The transcript and published segments of the video indicated that Russian-backed rebels arrived at the crash site expecting to find the wreckage of a military aircraft and crew who had parachuted from the aircraft.

In May 2016, Stratfor released satellite imagery taken five hours before the crash which showed a Russian Buk system travelling on a flatbed truck east through Makiivka, 40 km away from Snizhne. Stratfor's concluded that a Buk system had moved from the Russian border toward Donetsk on 15 July 2014, and then moved back to the east on the afternoon of 17 July 2014, hours before Flight MH17 was shot down.

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