MH17 crash: Everything we know about the gunning down of a passenger plane (2023)

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Eight years on from the tragic downing of a Malaysia Airlines commercial flight, here’s everything we know.

What do we know?

On 17 July 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur under the flight number MH17 at an altitude of 33,000 feet.

It was one of 160 flights that crossed the airspace of eastern Ukraine that day. MH17 was shot down and crashed near the Ukrainian village of Hrabove. All 298 passengers and crew on board died.

An exclusion zone prevailed at 32,000 feet because of the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels.


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Five countries – the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine – formed the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) into the tragedy.

(Video) MH17 Crash: What Really Happened To Malaysia Airlines Flight? | Special Report

On 24 May 2018 the JIT announced that the Buk missile installation that brought down the flight belonged to the Russian army.

The missile, which can reach a height of 80,000 feet, was fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine – at a target that may mistakenly have been assumed to be a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Who was responsible?

A murder trial was held by the Hague District Court, sitting in a high-security courtroom at Schiphol Airport.

Dutch prosecutors said the missile launcher came from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces based in the Russian city of Kursk and was driven back there after MH17 was shot down.

Three men, none of whom were in court, were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The most senior was Igor Girkin, a 51-year-old former colonel in the Russian intelligence service, FSB, also known as “Strelkov”. At the time of the downing, he was defence minister and commander of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic - the region where the plane was shot down. Girkin is reportedly involved in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Also convicted were Girkin’s subordinates, a Russian named Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader.

While they may not have fired the missile, they were held responsible for it being in position.

What did the investigators find?

At a Dutch airbase, investigators pieced together fragments of the cockpit and cabin, which were ripped apart by the explosion.

The final report by the Dutch Safety Board was released in October 2015.

Circumstantial evidence and sightings on the ground overwhelmingly point to a Russian Buk system arriving in the vicinity the day MH17 was brought down.

They concluded that the warhead had been travelling at over 1,500mph when it exploded inches in front of the nose of the aircraft, just 10 feet left of the cockpit and 13 feet above it.

(Video) Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shot Down: Timeline of What Happened

Their evidence includes analysis of the microphones on the flight deck, which showed a tiny difference in when the noise of the explosion reached each of the instruments.

The investigators have also created a computer-generated reconstruction showing the effects of the blast.


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The shape of the fragments of shrapnel found in the wreckage and in the bodies of some of those on board gives certainty, say the investigators, that: “The aircraft was struck by a 9N315M warhead as carried on a 9M38-series missile and launched by a Buk surface-to-air missile system.”

It concludes that the two pilots and the purser, who were sitting in the cockpit, died instantly when the warhead exploded.

But it does not rule out the possibility that some occupants of the aircraft were conscious for some or all of the time it took for the aircraft to hit the ground, up to 90 seconds after the missile exploded.

The impact itself could have rendered many unconscious, with factors such as extreme cold and decrease in oxygen levels causing “reduced awareness” in others.

“It is likely the occupants were barely able to comprehend the situation in which they found themselves,” says the Dutch Safety Board. “The majority of the occupants seated in the cabin suffered multiple fractures consistent with the in-flight disintegration of the aeroplane and ground impact.”

What other explanations for the loss of MH17 have been proposed?

Many alternative theories, from air-to-air missiles to a meteor collision, continue to be advanced – as they were with the other Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was lost in 2014, flight MH370.

One account is that the passenger aircraft was shot down by one or more Ukrainian fighter jets. An eye-witness, Natasha Voronina, said that she saw two aircraft fly in different directions.

The Dutch Safety Board concluded that this could be explained because front part of the plane was blown away from the rest of the jet by the force of the blast. It said no other aircraft were shown on radar screens.

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A satellite photograph shown on Russian television claiming to show a jet closing in on the Malaysia Airlines aircraft has been discredited as a fake.

Another theory claims that the missile was fired by the Ukrainian army. But no credible evidence has been presented to back that up.

An inflight fire has been suggested, because of the evidence of burns on the bodies of some of the victims and fire damage to wreckage. But investigators concluded: “There was no inflight fire before the inflight break-up.

“Fires erupted at two wreckage sites after the crash.”

Inflight mechanical failure has also been considered, but again the final report concludes: “There were no known technical malfunctions that could affect the safety of the flight.”

A meteor has been offered as alternative explanation. But the final report said no ultrasonic sound waves which accompany the descent of a meteor had been recorded. It also notes that the chances of a meteor striking an aircraft have been calculated to be at most one case in 59,000 years.

Nor could a falling satellite have caused the crash: in the week of the crash, no space debris was recorded as re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

The Dutch Safety Board excludes the possibility of any other cause, saying: “No other scenario can explain this combination of factors.”

(Video) Moment Rebels Realised Shot Down MH17 Was Passenger Plane

Why was the aircraft in an area where there was an armed conflict?

That is exactly the question asked by the investigators. Three days before the attack, the Ukrainian authorities had briefed Western diplomats about the shooting down of a military transport aircraft over the conflict zone.

Ukraine then raised the minimum “safe” altitude to 32,000 feet – one thousand feet below the level of MH17. Airlines make their own decisions about flight paths. At the time of the shooting-down some carriers had decided to avoid eastern Ukraine, even though on the busy air routes between Europe and South East Asia it meant longer journeys and higher fuel consumption.

If the aviation community had been aware of what the Western intelligence services knew at the time about the weaponry on the ground, no civilian aircraft would have flown in the area.

“According to the Ukrainian authorities, weapons systems were being used that could reach civil aeroplanes at cruising altitude.” says the report.

What is Moscow’s view?

Russia has always denied any involvement in the shooting down of MH17. When the charges were announced, the Kremlin reiterated that it had no involvement in the downing of the Malaysian airliner and accused the JIT investigation of being “biased and politically motivated”.

Tass, the official Russian news agency, says: “Russian officials have repeatedly expressed distrust towards the JIT’s conclusions, which carried out a criminal investigation of the MH17 case and pointed to the groundlessness of the arguments presented by the prosecution and the reluctance to use Moscow’s conclusions in conducting the investigation.”

It is thought very unlikely that the three men found guilty of the attack will ever be seen outside Russia again.


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What do the investigators recommend for future operations?

Airlines should publish clear information to potential passengers about flight routes over conflict zones, and provide public accountability about their choices at least annually.

Civil aviation authorities should make it mandatory for airlines to carry out their own risk assessment of countries that they overfly. They wamust inform airlines and foreign governments “as quickly as possible in the event of an armed conflict with possible risks for civil aviation.”

Governments must share “relevant information about threats within a foreign airspace” with each other and with airlines.

(Video) "Bodies everywhere you look" - the shooting down of MH17 | Hotspots

Incentives – possibly financial – should be offered to nations that close airspace because of the risk from conflicts taking place on their territory.


Who is responsible for shooting down MH17? ›

Russia Is Legally Responsible For Downing Of MH17, Netherlands And Australia Say.

Were the passengers of MH17 killed instantly? ›

Only the captain and two of the crew were killed instantly when the missile hit the plane just three feet from the cockpit. Everyone else on board remained alive for up to 90 seconds before the plane exploded mid-air.

What was the cause of the MH17 plane crash? ›

Cause of the crash

Audio (in Russian) released by the Security Service of Ukraine with English subtitles. Soon after the crash both American and Ukrainian officials said that a 9M38 series surface-to-air missile strike was the most likely cause.

What happened to MH17 shot down? ›

A Dutch court has found three men guilty of the murder of 298 people onboard flight MH17, which was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile when it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Is Russia guilty of MH17? ›

In November last year, a Dutch court found three men guilty of the murder of the 298 people onboard flight MH17. The Russian nationals Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and a Ukrainian, Leonid Kharchenko were handed life sentences but remain at large.

Who were the three men found guilty of downing MH17? ›

The court found that a Russian-made missile supplied from Russia and fired by an armed group under Russian control brought down flight MH17. The men - two Russians and one Ukrainian - were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life in jail. A third Russian was acquitted.

Did MH17 passengers suffer? ›

The passengers' final moments

Some people suffered "probably fatal" injuries and others would have had little idea what was going on, experiencing "reduced awareness or unconsciousness within a very short time," the report said.

What were the last words of MH17 pilots? ›

The last words from the cockpit were "romeo November delta, Malaysian one seven" - a routine reply to directions given from a Ukrainian control centre.

Why do plane crash victims lose clothes? ›

Well, when the passengers of the plane crash are found without clothes, it only indicates that the passenger cabin had broken during the crash allowing for a mid-air break-up. In such a situation the clothes get shredded by the slipstream.

Why did MH17 fly over Ukraine? ›

“They chose the most direct and economic flight route possible, which keeps their fuel costs down and is something we expect as customers. They were no different from any other international airline.”

Were there any survivors of MH17? ›

On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was on its way to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam with 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. There were no survivors in the crash.

How much compensation did MH17 get? ›

The families of the victims of the MH17 tragedy were awarded damages exceeding $16.5 million by a Dutch court on Thursday.

Was there justice for MH17? ›

All 298 people on board the plane died, among them 198 Dutch nationals. Three persons (two Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national) were given lifetime sentences and one person was acquitted. Justice has been done. The verdict shows that the international community will not accept impunity.

Who are the defendants of MH17? ›

All three – former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, a separatist leader – were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. A fourth suspect, Russian national Oleg Pulatov was acquitted.

What system shot down MH17? ›

The BUK-TELAR missile system was used to shot down MH17 on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, investigators said.

Who is responsible for aircraft accident? ›

Owner/Operator: If an aircraft owner is found to be reckless when operating a plane, then that owner will typically be held liable for any accidents and injuries caused. A pilot may also be held liable under vicarious liability, which is when an employer is held liable for the actions of their employees.

Did Russia shoot down a Korean passenger plane? ›

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (KE007/KAL007) was a scheduled Korean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska. On September 1, 1983, the flight was shot down by a Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor.

What are the criminal charges for MH17? ›

They are prosecuted for: causing the crash of flight MH17, resulting in the death of all persons on board, punishable pursuant to Article 168 of the Dutch Criminal Code; the murder of the 298 persons on board of flight MH17, punishable pursuant to Article 289 of the Dutch Criminal Code.

What nationalities were on MH17? ›

According to the flight manifest, MH17 was carrying 193 Dutch nationals (including one with dual US nationality), 43 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons (including one with dual South African citizenship).


1. MH17: three men found guilty of murdering 298 people in shooting down of plane
(Guardian News)
2. What happened to Flight MH17
(Flight Sim)
3. The horror of flight MH17 and the shocking war that caused the plane to be shot down | Four Corners
(ABC News In-depth)
4. The long pursuit of justice for victims of MH17 | 60 Minutes Archive
(60 Minutes)
5. Malaysia Airlines MH17 'shot down,' killing all on board
(Arirang News)
6. Three pro-Russian soldiers convicted of murder over flight MH17
(Sky News)
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