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By Doug Herlihy
For the Sentinel 

The felling of Malaysia Air Flight 17


Dutch Safety Board Animation

Wreckage: Investigators sort through the debris from Malaysia Flight 17

An aviator and air crash expert sought worldwide for his insights into air disasters, Goldendale resident Doug Herlihy recounts the abundant evidence mounting that demonstrates a Russian missile deliberately brought down Malaysia Air Flight 17. This is the third and final part of his story.

The cockpit was ripped from the fuselage, and within seconds the passenger compartment began to disintegrate.

The airplane's hull was torn apart. Wreckage, luggage, passports and bodies fell into farmland and houses in and around Pervomaiskyi, eastern Ukraine, spread over a 19-square mile area. Post-crash fires of the main wreckage consumed much of what was left. There were no survivors. The JIT investigation indicated that the BUK-TELAR missile launcher, minus a missile, subsequently traveled back across the Russian Federation border, along with its operators. Evidence cited by the investigators includes hundreds of civilian videos and photos, multiple intercepted phone calls, and "multimedia" phone and images. The Russian and other combatant participants were identified by numerous sources, including photographs and voice recognition.

Forensic and intelligence reconstruction

Immediate efforts to investigate the event were blocked. The crash site in eastern Ukraine was under the control of pro-Russian fighters, which prevented investigative teams from the Ukraine government from reaching the scene. Moreover, the area southeast of Donetsk was a scene of heavy fighting between Ukraine government troops and pro-Russian fighters. Access to the wreckage was denied by pro-Russian forces for months. During that period, the wreckage and its contents were pillaged, much of it never recovered. Nevertheless, the process of collecting radar, telephone and video data began the very day after the loss of MH17 (July 18, 2014). As with any aviation accident investigation, analysis begins with the gathering of facts and the development of hypotheses that must be proved or disproved. This investigation was no different.

Both the Dutch Safety Board and the Joint Investigative Team (multinational), working independently, reached similar conclusions. The hypotheses that were advanced included loss of the aircraft by crew error, by technical aircraft failure, by air-to-air (another aircraft) destruction, or by the use of a ground-based missile system. The communications with MH17, as well as the radar recordings by air traffic control, ruled out the first three scenarios. As the investigation proceeded in the months following the event, evidence mounted which conclusively recorded the Russian BUK-TELAR launch vehicle, which with its rockets was brought into Eastern Ukraine from the territory of the Russian Federation a short time before July 17, 2014. Likewise, many similar sources confirmed the BUK-TELAR vehicle, minus its rocket, being brought back across the Russian frontier in the days following the crash.

Forensically, months later when investigators were allowed to enter the scene (under the watchful eyes of pro-Russian fighters), the shattered cockpit and the remains of the crew provided concrete evidence of the effect of the burst from a Russian BUK 9M38 missile warhead. The remains of passengers and crew that were carried to the Netherlands for identification by pathology revealed conclusive evidence linking the explosion to the specific BUK model as well. The perforations and penetrations both in recovered fragments and the velocities through the aluminum airplane skin as well as occupants were forensically linked to a BUK 9M38 series warhead. The JIT compared an unfired exemplar 9M38 missile and matched its parts conclusively to fragments found in the airplane and crew remains. These fragments of "bowtie" and "cube" design were uniquely 9M38 warhead fragments. Additional evidence of the rocket's flight fins was found in the airplane's debris. Many more factors, such as soil analysis from the rocket launch site, satellite imagery and radar analysis added to the JIT conclusions.

As with any complex investigation, the gathering of facts and analysis is not over. World court(s) will yet be asked to bring to justice those specific individuals and entities identified by the JIT investigators. There remains much to do in regard to this terrible event.

Primary sources for this article: Dutch Safety Board report dated October 13, 2015. The report may be found at:


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