Jan 4, 2016

MH17 criminal probe ticks on, and could blow up in our faces

The Dutch Safety Board was blunt about airlines that continued to fly through airspace in which 16 aircraft had been shot down shortly before the MH17 atrocity

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

A DSB graphic of the BUK detonation that destroyed MH17
A DSB graphic of the BUK detonation that destroyed MH17

Updated with link to new ‘citizen journalist’ report*

A recent Dutch news report, picked up by Live Leak, is a reminder that the Australian government’s rhetoric about the MH17 atrocity is on course for a rough ride this year as the Dutch criminal inquiry continues its pursuit of guilty parties in the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines 777 while in transit over a civil war zone in Ukraine on 17 July 2014 with the loss of 298 lives.

It all seemed so simple for a while. Russian backed separatists used a Russian BUK missile to destroy the jet. Unless you live in some sort of fairy tale land, the Dutch Safety Board investigative findings into the cause of the crash, published on 13 October last year, make it abundantly certain that such an atrocity was committed, although precisely from where, or by whom, as in name rank and serial number, wasn’t established.

That DSB report was about what brought down MH17, rather than who dunnit. But contrary to the narrative televised live that day, and it seems relied upon by much of the media to the exclusion of the actual contents of the report, it also contained some damning evidence about a failure of standards of care by the airlines that accepted claims by Ukraine and EU air traffic control that flying over the terrain being traversed by MH17 was perfectly safe above 32,000 feet.

The report revealed that Malaysia had failed to fully cooperate with the accident inquiry, with an inference that what Malaysia’s intelligence services knew about the Ukraine skies situation had not been communicated to the airline. It also revealed that Russia had issued a notice to pilots for 17 July 2014 that any airspace below 53,000 feet on its side of the east Ukraine border was unsafe.

Which in effect would have meant to the thickest of airline operations staff, that continuing from east Ukraine skies into Russia controlled airspace presented them with a 21,000 feet increase in minimum safe altitude which would have been unattainable for every jet airliner in service in the world that day, and most likely for decades to come.

This altitude restriction needs to be kept in mind when considering the Live Leak report, which is primarily concerned with a reputable Dutch newspaper reporting that Ukraine continues to say it has no radar records for that part of the sky showing what else might or might not have been near MH17 when it was shot down by what was undoubtedly a Russian made BUK missile. (It is perfectly normal for air traffic control services to continue to separate civilian traffic without seeing it on radar, which happens over a very large part of the Australian continent and in oceanic airspace.)

What is the elephant in the clouds in this story, and many similar to it in recent months, is whether or not Ukraine had a military aircraft in that part of the sky at that moment that the militia manning the BUK launcher might have been looking for when unfortunately MH17 came into range and was locked upon.

If it did it compounds the indifference to civilian air traffic safety that Ukraine had when it made that corridor, and some adjacent to it, available to flights by Malaysia Airlines, and by other carriers. The operational settings of those airlines that were continuing to use at risk Ukraine airspace on that day are called into question in no uncertain manner in the passages in the DSB report that most media didn’t read or chose not to report.

The DSB was blunt in its report, as distinct from circumspect in its media presentation.

It cast an entirely new and serious light on the discharge of safety responsibilities by the airlines that continued to fly through airspace over a war zone in which at least 16 aircraft including helicopters had been shot down during hostilities between Ukraine and Russia backed separatist forces in the previous month.

While there is outrage over the slaughter of the 298 people who were on board MH17, and what seems like some pathetic lies and evasions in the various and amateurish Moscow narratives, the behavior of Malaysia Airlines, and other luckier airlines, and Ukraine authorities, doesn’t appear likely to conveniently slip below the radar in this on-going criminal inquiry which is due to report sometime this year.

By Australian legal standards airline managements and boards are liable for safety outcomes. A bit of courage seems called for in Canberra, to pursue those responsible for accepting the Ukraine flight path situation that destroyed MH17 with as much theatrical indignation as has been applied to the as yet unknown Russian supported militia who launched a missile in the course of an on-going conflict.


The Dutch public prosecutor will ‘take seriously’ analysis by the citizen journalist Bellingcat group that it says has potentially identified Russian soldiers who may have been involved in the shootdown.

An early story on this is on the ABC News website here.

If these claims can be validated it would be a vital breakthrough. As would be public interrogation of the decision makers in those airlines that chose to continue to fly through air space over a missile active war zone, and for the full picture, their counterparts in airlines that withdrew Ukraine overflights before the shootdown.

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14 thoughts on “MH17 criminal probe ticks on, and could blow up in our faces

  1. Renaldo Waitart

    ‘whether or not Ukraine had a military aircraft in that part of the sky at that moment that the militia manning the BUK launcher might have been looking ‘

    As I recall the Russians, a week later, showed video of radar tracking a jet fighter right next to MH17 just before it fell out of the sky after its cockpit was hit by many high speed objects (cannon shells?)

  2. Dan Dair

    Renaldo Waitart,
    The accepted evidence & DSB report makes it clear that it was ‘shrapnel’ from a BUK missile which brought down MH17 & not any other kind of weapon.

    As Bens’ report highlights, it is possible that whoever fired the missile was actually shooting at a military aircraft, but missed.
    The Russian radar images might be fabricated, as is generally believed,
    but it is also plausible that they are genuine & that they show the military aircraft the BUK missile was intended for.

    However, this presents a double-edged sword for the separatists & their Russian sponsors;
    it would show that Ukraine bomber aircraft were active in the vicinity of the incident at the time & (as Ben points out) were disregarding the fact that civilian aircraft were still overflying the conflict-zone at the time,
    that only the Russian-backed separatists would be likely to shoot at a Ukrainian military aircraft in that vicinity.

    Consequently (if this scenario is proved to be correct),
    Whilst the Ukraine government & military would be made to look very bad,
    the separatists & the Russians will have been proved to have been totally responsible for actually shooting down a fully-loaded civilian airliner.?

    Not a good outcome for either nation, but much worse for the Russians.?

  3. StickShaker

    This entire incident is disturbingly similar to that of KAL007, a 747 which was shot down by Russian fighters after breaching Soviet air space over the Kamchatka Peninsula.
    It was the height of the cold war and the Russians were particularly sensitive about US RC-135 surveillance aircraft that were often active in that area monitoring nearby Soviet military installations.

    If anything the airspace over the Kamchatka Peninsula was hotter than that above Ukraine when MH17 was shot down as it was the front line in any potential cold war hostilities.

  4. Uwe

    IMHO the “citizen journalist Bellingcat group” exists for muddying the waters and not for clearing up the picture.

    Their facts appear to be conjured up.
    ( that does not require that the presented facet view must be wrong but that the Bellingcat information does not have weight.)

  5. Dan Dair

    Renaldo Waitart,
    Further to my previous contribution;

    It occurred to me that your statement,
    “video of radar tracking a jet fighter right next to MH17 just before it fell out of the sky”
    is probably (though not definitely) flawed.

    A 2-dimentional radar image may well put a possible Ukraine strike-bomber ‘right next to’ MH17,
    but in 3-dimensions a ground-attacking, bomber would be unlikely to be more than a few thousand feet high & consequently a long way from ‘right next to’ MH17.

    (This might be a plausible reason why, if the BUK missile missed an attack-aircraft, it might continue several thousand feet higher & bring down the civilian airliner)

    It should be noted that Ukraine was not facing any Russian air-cover for the separatist-rebels,
    consequently, it is extremely unlikely that Ukraine would send fighter aircraft into this conflict-zone.
    Far more likely to be in the vicinity would be relatively low-flying ground-attack bombers, which Ukraines air force had frequently used to attack known & suspected rebel strongholds.

    It was well-reported that many civilians/non-combatants were killed & injured as a result of these strikes, though it is unknown at this stage whether this was the result of poor intelligence, bad bomb-aiming or the rebels deliberately using heavily-populated areas for their shelling-bases & arms-depots.

    Finally, had there been a Ukraine military aircraft in the immediate vicinity of MH17 at the time of its loss,
    it is likely that the flight crew or passengers would have noticed it & it would have been brought to the attention of air traffic control.?
    As far as I am aware, MH17 made no such communication with ATC.

  6. malcolmdbmunro

    Interesting that in the case of MH17 and MH370 outsiders performed some highly sophisticated tracking and analysis of data. Whether this will add materially to investigations on MH17 remains to be seen but those done in the latter case certainly did. The thoroughness of individual efforts and the dialogue on disputes over available data make for a thoroughly healthy set of likely findings.

    It is astonishing to think of how quickly these analyses have emerged as even possible. The detail of possible flight track and impact point give some pointers as to where the wreckage of MH370 might be. Without this sort of data analysis the possibility of finding the wreckage would be out of the question.

    I do not recall similar analysis being performed in the public realm where AF447 was concerned and that was “only” five and a half years ago.

    Open-source intelligence (OSINT) proves to be an effective means of verifying publicly released details and finding material not intended for public consumption. Better still is the ability to piece together various sources across language and national boundaries and easily highlight the contradictions and lack of credibility of those who wish to hide information.

    I don’t suppose this will lead to a greater revealing of truths by those who have everything to hide but being able to discount the improbables and nonsenses does reduce the noise. Makes it much harder for the flat earthers to offer any credibility whatsoever. That, if nothing else, is a worth while result.

  7. Ben Sandilands

    While Bellingcat may well have started with answers and then set out to get the supporting evidence, what it finds could be useful. In my opinion, if they have identified Russian soldiers who may have accompanied a BUK unit we remain many levels of proof away from evidence that would be required to get a conviction in a criminal trial.

    Militia conducting hostile activities in a disputed territory in which the state claiming sovereignty appears to have lost control poses some difficult questions.

    If the terrible things that happened in WWII were pursued down to the scale of this particular atrocity in some sort of as yet unexplained or unavailable legal process I’m guessing so many generations would be so bogged down in trials and recriminations there would be little room for anything else.

    MH17 came down in a theatre of civil war. It ought not have been there.

  8. Uwe

    “Finally, had there been a Ukraine military aircraft in the immediate vicinity of MH17 at the time of its loss,
    it is likely that the flight crew or passengers would have noticed it & it would have been brought to the attention of air traffic control.?”

    Nothing visible below or behind the 777 in cruise flight.
    the RU allegation at the time was that UKR mil aircraft used the backdrop of civil airliners as protection against Separatist AA fire.

    This was derided as “Russians say ‘UKR fighter has shot down MH17’ ” . There is a difference.

    IMU all still rather open.

  9. Johan Dritter

    The Ukrainian authorities had a supporter hiding close by so placed as to photograph the actual missile carrier.

    How good is that?

    How dumb do they think we are?

  10. Dan Dair

    Johan Dritter,
    “The Ukrainian authorities had a supporter hiding close by so placed as to photograph the actual missile carrier”

    or maybe the rebel forces,
    pleased with themselves at the acquisition of a new (to them) & powerful piece of kit,
    took some photo’s & posted it on social media………………….?

    After all,
    nobody else reads our social media posting but us, do they.?????!

  11. Dan Dair

    Yes, a Ukraine aircraft could have been hiding below or behind MH17 (& other civilian airliners).

    However, it just doesn’t seem very likely…..?

    Ukraine has adjacent airforce bases & presumably has no need to ‘hide’ around civil aircraft at 30,000 feet in order to arrive at the conflict zone.?

    I’m not trying to deny that a Ukraine airforce aircraft MIGHT have been in the region at the time.
    But I don’t see why what would have been a ground attack aircraft, despatched from a relatively nearby Ukrainian airbase, would need to fly at 30,000 feet plus, before attacking rebel/separatist forces at 3,000 feet or less.

    A ground attack aircraft would expect know its targets before it was airborne,
    so it would be most likely to approach as low & as fast as would be deemed most militarily effective, whilst at the same time presenting itself at its least vulnerable target.?

    If there are any former or current strike pilots or their operational trainers who have an alternative perspective,
    I will happily defer to wiser birds.

  12. Moss

    Seems my comment refuting Dan Dair did not get through moderation.
    Dan, the rebels had posted interview footage on line in the weeks prior to the MH17 downing that they had observed Ukrainian airforce bombers flying underneath civilian flights, then descending to perform bombing runs, then re-climbing to tail the civilan flights. The rebel was terrified that something bad was going to happen to the civilian flight.
    If true, such a story would fit with why civilian flights such as MH17 were slightly re-routed – to fly over target areas for the bombers.
    Additionally, Ben, no further reporting of the ongoing parliamentary discussions in the Netherlands in which Deputy Pieter Omtzigt alleged CTIVD intelligence body revealed to parliament that only the Ukrainian army had operating BUKs in Eastern Ukraine? Or on his ongoing request for the missing radar data from Ukrainian Authorities?

  13. Ben Sandilands

    Moss, It should have appeared just as readily as it has now.

    On occasions, the software fails to recognise a previously registered reader in terms of comments. This may sometimes result from a reader arriving at the site via a route that had was seen as insecure or had some other quality that triggers the software equivalent of an allergic reaction.

    I have no idea what exactly what is going on when this happens. It even happens to me once or twice every few months. I can’t really engage with the finer details of your MH17 observations at the moment without pulling the plug for a few hours on some current inquiries. One the failings of the on-line media environment is its heavy linkage to current rather than prior threads that have been dormant for a period of time.

  14. Moss

    Ok, thanks Ben, I did link to a coupld of websites so maybe that triggered it. I’m not really that paranoid 😉
    I suggest following Omtzigt on Twitter.
    The primary radar data has not been provided by Ukrainian Authorities, lots of excuses like “one of the radar facilities was destroyed by masked men in June 14”, and “military radar was not switched on at the time” etc etc. The Russians apparently provided screen video only and not primary data too.
    All very suspicious.

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