The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it.
Soon, a multi-national force set up by the United Nations will guard the ground where the Malaysian airliner crashed after being hit by a missile over Ukraine.
The debris field was unsecured for days after the crash. One investigator says he saw local workers cutting away the wreckage with a chainsaw.
Experts worry that some pieces have been repositioned or removed, leaving the scene compromised.
Jim Wildey retired from the National Transportation Safety Board after 37 years. His job was to determine if explosives caused a plane crash.
His team investigated the deadly crash of TWA Flight 800, which went down shortly after takeoff from New York. Authorities initially suspected it was caused by a bomb, but the NTSB ruled that out.
Wildey says missiles will leave a signature burn on the wreckage.
“If a missile explodes nearby, you’d expect a shotgun blast of holes with concurrent damage associated with over pressure of the missile exploding. If it’s further away, it might not be so obvious," said Wildey.
Wildey says this investigation is unlike any other because of the circumstances - a passenger plane shot down over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.
Many are asking why some - like Malaysia Airlines - continued flying in the airspace, while others thought it was too dangerous.
Kenneth Quinn is with the Flight Safety Foundation. He says in the past, governments avoided setting up no-fly zones over civil conflicts. Local fighters typically did not have access to surface-to-air missiles that could reach cruising altitudes of passenger planes. U.S. intelligence analysts say a Russian SA-11 "Buk" missile downed the Malaysian-bound aircraft.
“This is a new threat, a new kind of capability that heretofore had only been possessed by some of the large powers - principally Russia and the United States and the Mideastern powers and China. So to have the ethnic strife, the civil war and high-range missile anti-aircraft batteries is quite ominous and something we would want to prevent," said Quinn.
As investigators search for clues, airline experts want a global summit to address this new dynamic in local conflicts.