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.

*Updated

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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