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Dutch Probe: Buk Missile Brought Down MH17

  • Luis Ramirez

The Dutch Safety Board confirmed that a Russian-made missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last year, placing blame on governments and airlines, and saying no one gave any thought to the risk of flying commercial airliners over eastern Ukraine where a conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces was raging.

"Flight MH17 crashed as a result of the detonation of a warhead outside the airplane against the left-hand side of the cockpit,” Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, said Tuesday at a conference center in The Hague, with a partially reconstructed portion of the plane looming in the background.

“This warhead fits the kind of missile that is installed in the BUK surface-to-air missile system," Joustra said in announcing the board's findings Tuesday.

But the official final report does not present any conclusions as to who fired the missile that caused the plane to crash in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

The reconstructed cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane is seen prior to the Dutch Safety Board presenting its final report into what caused the plane to break up over eastern Ukraine, in Gilze-Rijen, the Netherlands, Oct. 13, 2015.

The reconstructed cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane is seen prior to the Dutch Safety Board presenting its final report into what caused the plane to break up over eastern Ukraine, in Gilze-Rijen, the Netherlands, Oct. 13, 2015.

Joustra told family members and media that the plane was hit on the left side by shrapnel from the detonation of a missile fired from the ground. He said the plane broke up immediately, while still in the air.

He said Ukraine was responsible for closing the airspace above the armed conflict zone and chose not do so. "Nobody considered the possibility that civil aircraft at cruising altitude was at risk," he added.

Ukraine, Russia reactions

Reacting to the Dutch report, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin laid the blame on the MH17 crash squarely on Moscow, accusing Russia of being a "state sponsor of terrorism."

“Now we have [a] fully unbiased and transparent report of what has happened. ... In the sense of clearly proving that Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism, because bringing such highly sophisticated, extremely dangerous anti-air missile systems into Donbas (in eastern Ukraine) ... could be -- and should be -- treated as acts of terrorism and a war crime," Klimkin said.

Russia has denied responsibility for the crash and on Tuesday contradicted the Netherlands report on the type of warhead used and the report’s assertion the missile was fired from a rebel-held area.

A video shows the impact of a missile on Malaysia Airline Flight 17 during a press conference in Gilze-Rijen, the Netherlands, Oct. 13, 2015.

A video shows the impact of a missile on Malaysia Airline Flight 17 during a press conference in Gilze-Rijen, the Netherlands, Oct. 13, 2015.

Russia's state-run missile manufacturer, Almaz-Antey, said that its own investigation indicates that the Buk missile was fired from the town of Zaroshenske, which it said was under control of the Ukrainian government at the time of the accident.

Almaz-Antey head Yan Novikov also said Russian experts have concluded that the missile believed to have brought down the plane was an older Russian-made model, which is no longer used by the Russian military.

The information was presented to the Dutch investigators, but was not taken into account, Novikov said.

Seven nations, including Russia, took part in the Dutch-led investigation. Dutch officials said they included some, but not all, of the information that Russia contributed.

The Netherlands led the investigation because 193 of the 298 passengers on the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight were Dutch nationals.

WATCH: Related animated video of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

Reconstruction of wreckage

Using assembled wreckage of the MH17, Dutch investigators reconstructed the front part of the aircraft, including the nose, cockpit and business-class section. Investigators said it showed evidence that a missile warhead had exploded 1 cubic meter outside the front left of the cockpit, peppering the aircraft with schrapnel, instantly killing the pilots.

The reconstruction showed signs the cockpit had broken off from the rest of the plane.

Before releasing their report, Dutch officials briefed relatives of those who died aboard MH17 and explained the sequence of events, and showed them an animated video of the moments surrounding the crash.

Relatives said they were told the passengers lost consciousness immediately, did not have a chance to know what happened, and likely died quickly.

The overarching question during the investigation, Joustra said, was why a commercial airliner was flying over the conflict area.

He said investigators concluded there was enough reason for Ukraine’s government to close the airspace to commercial flights before the crash in view of the fighting that had been escalating for weeks.

Debris from flight MH17 was found as far as 8km from the main debris site

Debris from flight MH17 was found as far as 8km from the main debris site

“No one made a connection" to the risk the fighting posed to civil aviation, Joustra said.

Joustra said the panel recommends that, in the future, states with armed conflicts should put more effort into the safety of their airspace, and flight operators should be more transparent about the flight route they choose.

US reaction

In a White House statement, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Dutch report issued Tuesday " is an important milestone in the effort to hold accountable those responsible for the shoot-down of the aircraft and the killing of those aboard."

"Our assessment is unchanged -- MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine," Price said.

He added the United States supports "all efforts to bring to justice those responsible."

A U.S. State Department statement released Tuesday by deputy spokesman Mark Toner said, "This report validates what Secretary [John] Kerry first said more than a year ago, MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile.

"The United States detected a missile launch from separatist-controlled territory at the moment of the shootdown and drew attention to verified conversations among separatist leaders bragging about shooting down an aircraft in the immediate aftermath of this tragic event," Toner said in the statement.

"Our sympathy and thoughts remain with the families and friends of the MH17 victims," he said, adding the U.S. would review the panel's recommendations regarding handling of airspace during armed conflicts.

After the report was released, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on Russia to fully cooperate with the criminal investigation into who is responsible for the downing of MH17. A key priority “is now tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators," he said.

Pamela Dockins contributed to this report from the State Department.

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