After 4 months since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the Donetsk People's Republic in Eastern Ukraine, officials from the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) investigating the events that led to the loss of the Boeing 777 with 298 passengers and crew on board began removing parts of the aircraft. The removal of aircraft debris began early this morning, November 16th, and was overseen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The actual work was carried out by local workers supervised by a dozen members of the DSB at the main burn crash site, which includes parts of the aircraft's main fuselage, wings, landing gear and engines.
Workers today used heavy sawing equipment to separate larger parts before craning them onto several flatbed trucks. Large and small parts of the Boeing 777 are strewn across 20 kilometres of area, which include the villages of Hrabove (Grabovo), Rozsypne and Petropavlivka. The first of the debris was removed today, first to Torez, and by late this evening on to the second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv by train where many officials from the DSB and OSCE have based themselves in recent months. Since the downing of MH17 in July by a suspected surface to air missile, investigators have endured a frustrating on-off series of inspection visits to the crash site due to on-going hostilities between Ukrainian forces and rebels in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic. The DSB has set a target of removing most of the crash debris over the next ten days.
Aircraft Parts to RecoverAlthough not yet confirmed, and due to the logistics and civil unrest, investigators hope to get as much of the wreckage back to the Netherlands as possible where they will reassemble parts of the Boeing 777. It is understood that the first parts removed today were parts which could best help investigators identify the bodies of passengers.
The DSB investigators avoided attributing blame for the downing of MH17 in their preliminary report, only stating that the aircraft was brought down by a massive explosive decompression likely caused by 'high-energy objects from outside the aircraft.' The DSB will be keen to recover the front cockpit and cargo hold this week, the area where they believe the initial damage and breakup of the aircraft occurred. They will want to rule in or out whether holes below the cockpit windows and above the floor of the aircraft were caused by explosive shrapnel from a proximity missile or are more consistent with claims by some independent analysts (solely examining photographs taken by international media organisations) that the holes are evidence of 30mm canon fire from a fighter jet.
Counter TheoriesThe US administration and several countries in Western Europe have maintained that MH17 was brought down by a Buk SA-11, a medium-range surface-to-air missile developed by the Soviet Union, and that the missile launcher system was in the hands of Russian-backed rebels in the Donetsk region at the time MH17 crossed over Eastern Ukraine. The US administration stated days after the incident that it has 'a build up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence,' but has yet to produce any real evidence that the DSB could refer to the criminal part of their investigation. The Russian Federation has countered claims of their involvement by providing satellite footage and data that shows what they suggest to be a Ukrainian fighter jet (possibly an SU25) within 5 kilometres of MH17 at the time. It should also be noted that the DSB preliminary report makes no reference to evidence (circumstantial or otherwise), though it does state that Ukrainian and Russian Federation authorities have cooperated and shared data during their investigations (contrary to widespread media reports).
I think it is important not to confuse political posturing in the mainstream media with the investigative work the DSB is currently carrying out, and the removal and examination of aircraft debris is only the real beginning of this investigation. While the DSB has been leading the investigation, authorities in Germany and Belgium have also been assisting with aspects of the criminal investigation. Recent news articles in the Germany press have also been less than helpful, and this is always the historical issue when multiple nations are involved in an aircraft investigation.
Video Released Moments After Downing of MH17The Associated Press has released an amateur video taken by a resident of Hrabove moments after parts of MH17 fell into the surrounding fields of the village and residents ran from their houses and farms frantically dousing burning debris which fell on their property and roadside.
ConclusionPerhaps the most sobering aspect today was when workers, lifting one large piece of MH17 onto a truck, soon discovered further bones and human remains at the crash site. With 289 bodies now accounted for, the bodies of nine people have yet to be located and identified.
The real first phase of finding out what happened MH17 began in earnest today. The final report into MH17 will not be completed and delivered until probably August, 2015. No doubt there will be much political pontificating and finger-pointing between now and then. The role of the DSB and other participating nation members in the investigation into the downing of MH17 is to conclusively present the tested and quantifiable evidence that explains the how and why. Whoever brought down MH17 will only be known when we discover the how and why. Once presented with the final evidence and recommendations, let's see how vocal and proactive those who shout loudest and point accusing fingers are when the time comes to bring the responsible parties to justice.