air crashes

Jul 18, 2014

MH17: Malaysia 777 was deliberately tracked and destroyed

Intelligence reports in the US and UK are unequivocal as to the cause of the destruction of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the eastern Ukraine yesterday (Thursday) afternoon loc

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

[caption id="attachment_47109" align="aligncenter" width="610" caption="An AvWeek traffic capture showing flights are avoiding Ukraine skies after atrocity"][/caption] Intelligence reports in the US and UK are unequivocal as to the cause of the destruction of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the eastern Ukraine yesterday (Thursday) afternoon local time killing all 295 people on board. A heavy vehicle mounted surface to air missile system locked onto the Boeing 777-200ER, tracked it, and then launched the missile that brought it down in pieces close to the Russian border. While it has not been confirmed that the missile was launched by pro-Russia separatists, those forces are dominant in the area where this atrocity occurred. Earlier this week a Ukranian cargo plane and a fighter jet were shot down in the area. The death toll included 27 Australian nationals according to authorities in the Netherlands, which lost 154 of its nationals in the shoot down.  Foreign Affairs has not confirmed the exact number of Australian nationals killed, and there remains some uncertaintly as to just what the numbers and nationalities will be when the manifest is finalised. [caption id="attachment_47108" align="aligncenter" width="610" caption="Ground level, part of the debris field made by MH17: social media"][/caption] MH17 had left Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur yesterday (Thursday) European time.  The video evidence suggests there was good visibility over the Donestsk area of the eastern Ukraine at the time it was struck by the missile. The jet was at an altitude of 33,000 feet or 10,000 metres and 1000 feet or 300 metres above the ceiling of closed air space. That supposedly 'safe' airspace, above 32,000 feet, has now been closed. Many airlines had stopped flying over the Ukraine months ago irrespective of the official status of air corridors that had remained open because of the obvious risks of flying over a war zone. The issue as to just how often or how infrequently or not at all various airlines have engaged in Ukraine overflights remains as murky at this early stage as the other fundamental questions that remain unanswered over MH17. What is clear is that for whatever reason an airliner flying over a war zone has been destroyed in flight and all 295 people on board died. There are confirmed reports that both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder carried by MH17, a Boeing 777-200ER, have been found. Reports that these vital black boxes have already been sent to Moscow to have the data retrieved are unconfirmed at this hour. There is nothing technologically challenging about a surface to air (SAM) missile locking onto and destroying an airliner at 33,000 feet. That's what they are designed to do, and have been for some time, including taking down supersonic targets and at altitudes higher than 60,000 feet.  While there are different claims made about the 1960 shooting down of a U-2 spyplane over the USSR, it was at an extremely high altitude when it was brought down. Given the deliberate and skilled steps that are required to launch a SAM, this incident is difficult to classify as anything but a premediated kill of a jet which even to civilian eyes in clear visibility would have looked like a passenger jet. Qantas has confirmed that it has not flown that route across the Ukraine in recent months, putting it amongst all of the other airlines that promptly recognised the risks of such overflights as the separatist conflict became one in which aircraft were being shot down. This report will be updated as additional factual elements emerge.

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35 thoughts on “MH17: Malaysia 777 was deliberately tracked and destroyed

  1. Rocket Rocket

    After years of fears about shoulder-launched missiles hitting planes at low altitude taking off or landing, now we have this. It is hard to imagine any way to stop such an attack as this that can be launched from anywhere – the world is too big and airspace is too full of passenger planes.

  2. Confirmed Sceptic

    Well, a tracked SAM launcher is hardly easy to hide, nor are they widely available. The Crimea may be the only region in the world where they are at large and operated by non-state bodies. (But certainly the Russians are providing advisors and technical oversight of the rebels)

    I wonder what the Ukrainians were thinking with allowing civilian overflights earlier? Perhaps they thought that populating the sky with enough civilian aircraft would give their own military flights some cover?

  3. Edward Thompson

    Shoulder launched is massively unlikely – a soviet/russian BUK is the most likely.


  4. wordfactory

    Does anyone know whether Eurocontrol is the relevant regional ATC/en route services provider for eastern Ukraine?

  5. wendal

    One would have to conclude that both the airline and Eurocontrol bear some responsibility for putting the plane in a situation where it was at risk. It now seems widely known there were long-range SAM systems active in the area.

  6. Suti I

    MH wern’t the only ones flying in the area. it looks like the following large airlines were in close proximity to mh17

    SIA333, SIA351
    DLH74, another DLH

  7. Geoff

    Wordfactory – Ukraine controls it’s own airspace although Eurocontrol would have seen the flight plan. Eurocontrol would have rejected a flight planned below FL 320 because of the Ukranian NOTAM. It is however quite common for upper air routes to remain open over areas of conflict. They are “nice earners” as Arthur would have said.

  8. Terry B

    Would any current QANTAS route fly over Ukraine anyway?

  9. GeorgeD

    There is a photograph on Leeham of an aircraft descending while on fire, seemingly having lost most of the right wing. Horrific.

    The grey, white, red and blue hull of a Malaysian aircraft could be mistaken at long distance for a grey, white, orange and blue hull of a Ukrainian aircraft.

    This is not the first shootdown of a civilian airliner in contested airspace, by any means. I doubt it will be the last.

  10. patrick kilby

    Terry B,
    QF have said they have not been overflying the Ukrain for some months now, but depending on conditions QF 1/2 and QF 9/10 could.

  11. Tango

    Thank you Ben, very good coverage from good sources.

  12. Tango

    As the so called non state actors are not tied into Air Traffic, its would be criminal to continue to fly over that area (no matter who winds up shooting it down but initial evidence points hard at insurgents).

    The Vincennes incident is topical. Not the how but you do not fly commercial aircraft through a conflict zone where there are missiles known or inherent (Vincenes) that can shoot them down.

    And George Glass does not think we have a system problem. Hmmm

  13. Glen

    The claimed rebel phone intercepts are pretty damning. If fake, they amount to an academy award performance of two different scripts knocked together and convincingly produced in under 6 hours.

    On the face of it the incompetence is breathtaking. Talking to the commander on a mobile … don’t they know BB listens? And shooting down a high-flying jet assuming it just has to military. WTF?

  14. Rob M

    I hate to ask, but those black boxes… If they go to Moscow, how could anyone consider their findings to be reliable? The Russians will not want to incriminate the separatists .

  15. dave worth

    As Colin Powell told George W Bush, “if you break Iraq you own the consequences”. Same could be said for Putin and what has been happening in eastern Ukraine.

  16. ghostwhowalksnz

    Rob M the black boxes arent necessarily the conclusive evidence, the crashed plane itself would have all the evidence needed. But of course this doesnt tie the SAM to who pushed the firing button.

    Some reports are saying Russia closed its airspace in the region in the day before the incident. MH17 would had passed through this Russian airspace after crossing the border.

  17. erikhb

    They thought it was an An-26? At FL330? Unpressurised? At least the An-26 aircraft I’ve been on were unpressurised.

  18. erikhb

    My apologies, my flights were on An-28 aircraft.

  19. Tango

    Report is that Ukraine closed the air space July 8 but ?????

    The US probable has a lot of intelligent assets in the area, including aerial well behind the lines but capable of picking up all the missile emissions.

    I suspect we will know by tomorrow who fired it.

    And if as I suspect the insugnats did it, you are talking about a bunch of whacko types who have little training and not tied into any ATC system. Anything goes in that case when you are loosing particularly.

    Russian would be the responsible party for giving them those systems. You don’t give weapons like that to clowns (though they will deny it) and they will not ever be held accountable.

  20. Socrates

    Whoever fired the missile had to be at least capable of operating the tracking radar, preparing and arming the missile for launch (not simple), firing it, and guiding it to the target. They must have had some military training.

  21. Socrates

    The reported missile (Buk or SA11) has a reported slant range of 28km. See

    If the aircraft was more than that distance from the Ukrainian government positions, then it can only have been downed by the rebels or nearby Russian forces.

  22. Wobbly

    If it can be established that LH, SQ, BR and others were also routing over Ukraine, then the so-called “experts” immediately blaming MH can STFU.

    Also the conjecture that separatists thought they’d hit a Ukrainian AN-26 transporter has to be questioned. I mean it’s a twin prop and just where we’re they transporting to – Russia?

    Would the Ukrainians be bothering to even sending this type of aircraft over occupied territory for surveillance?

    I think speculation is going to pin this firmly on rogue separatists, Russian military trained or commanded by Russian military who have deliberately downed a civilian jet. Therefore there will be significant blowback for Putin. Will be interesting to see how this plays out domestically in Russia.

  23. Socrates


    Exactly right. From other reports we already know that Singapore, Emirates and Etihad all had planes in that airspace recently. MAS were the unlucky ones to be caught first, in what has been a clear escalation of the conflict in the past week.

  24. Socrates

    This story lists a number of the airlines that had been flying there. They are not all going broke.

  25. Limited News

    Zero Hedge casts a critical eye over the “evidence”

    Normally lining up with the US over a dispute with Russia comes at zero political cost, but starting WWIII on the basis of a YouTube video is pretty crap.

  26. wendal

    @Wobbly – on the contrary, I think that means that ALL of the airlines that were overflying the area despite this week’s escalation showed a lack of duty of care to their customers and staff. This could have happened to any one of them. MH were just the unlucky ones.

  27. George Glass

    Tango, there is no systemic problem. Just a tragedy. Stick to computing or what ever it is you do.

  28. status07

    Send Putin to the Hague to answer for his War Crime in downning MH17.

  29. Jacob HSR

    My call to refit aircraft with equipment that constantly streams data up to satellites instead of an on-board black box flight recorder is vindicated.

  30. Real Gruzin

    audio from ukraine is fake! here is proof:

  31. nobeljnet

    …, on Emiroo(ted), do they still fly beyond hubs in the UAE or Americas?

  32. snichor

    “Given the deliberate and skilled steps that are required to launch a SAM, this incident is difficult to classify as anything but a premediated kill of a jet which even to civilian eyes in clear visibility would have looked like a passenger jet.”

    “Premediated”? Ahem.

    Again, medium range SAMs don’t have the operator visually searching for a target. IFF should show whether the aircraft is civilian or military, but it’s not foolproof.

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