Dutch investigators said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 likely broke up mid-air over eastern Ukraine after being hit by numerous "high-energy objects."
Released early Tuesday, the Dutch Safety Board's report found no signs that either technical problems or pilot error caused the crash nearly two months ago of Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Two-thirds of the victims were Dutch and the Netherlands is leading the investigation.
In a short statement from the board's headquarters in The Hague, chairman Tjibbe Joustra said initial results all point to an external cause, suggesting the plane splintered in midair.
"The available images show that pieces of wreckage were punctured in numerous places," Joustra said. "The pattern of damage to the body of the aircraft and the cockpit is consistent with the damage that would be expected from a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft."
The report offered the first official findings into the crash.
Fighting prevents thorough investigation
Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists prevented many of the team's international experts from reaching the crash site.
As a result, the findings draw on information from the plane's black boxes, photos of the crash site and radar data.
Western governments have accused pro-Moscow separatists of using a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile to shoot down the plane.
Later Tuesday, however, pro-Russian rebels argued that they do not have the military equipment that could bring down a passenger aircraft.
Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying: “I can say only one thing: We just don't have the [military] equipment which could bring down a passenger Boeing, including this Malaysian plane."
The report did not explicitly say a missile was to blame, but David Kaminski, air transport editor at Flight International, told VOA the evidence seems to continue to point in that direction.
"It has been very clear that it's not an internal system fault or anything like that. It's been very clear that whatever happened, happened externally," Kaminski said. "When they say, 'a large number of high-energy projectiles,' they're not really disguising what I think is in most people's minds, which was that this is probably a deliberate action by persons unknown."
The report said there are no indications the crash was caused by a technical malfunction, noting the Boeing 777 appeared to be airworthy before taking off.
Flight data recorder
An analysis of the jet's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder also did not reveal anything unusual in the moments before the crash.
Kaminski said this would not be surprising if the plane had encountered a missile.
"If this was brought down by a surface-to-air-missile, which seems to be the logical conclusion even though at this stage they're not prepared to say that, then [the pilots] almost certainly wouldn't have seen it coming," Kaminski said.
"These things travel at a very high rate of knots. And if it was a head-on impact, they probably wouldn't have known anything," he said.
The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
The Dutch safety board aims to publish a final report within a year of the July 17 crash.
Lisa Bryant contributed to this report from Paris. Some materials for this report came from Reuters.