Today the court discussed documents from the case file that concern the question to be answered by the court as to whether Flight MH17 was shot down with a BUK missile. The discussion then turned to the documents relevant for the next question, i.e. whether a BUK missile was launched from a farm field near Pervomaiskyi.
Question 1: Was Flight MH17 shot down with a BUK missile?
After Flight MH17 crashed on 17 July 2014, various possible causes were investigated. Causes other than an attack were considered, such as technical malfunction of the aircraft or being struck by lightning. The investigation team excluded an accident. The criminal investigation therefore focused on examining which type of attack caused the MH17 to crash.
In the case file various possible scenarios are considered, all based on the assumption that an explosion took place. But did the explosion come from within (as a consequence of an attack from within) or from outside the aircraft? And if it came from outside, what caused the explosion? An attack by a fighter jet (air-to-air) or a weapon from the ground (surface-to-air)? Which weapon could it have been?
The main scenario: attack with a BUK missile
In the case file the scenario that Flight MH17 crashed as a consequence of an attack with a BUK missile is identified as the main scenario.
The court reported that the case file contains documents explaining how a BUK missile works and describing that process. In addition, documents were mentioned that detail the different types and therefore the possible different properties (such as the colour of the missile and the shape of steel fragments in the detonating explosive) of BUK missiles. A type 9M38 missile, for example, differs from the more recent type 9M38M1. Although this has not been established with absolute certainty, because it has not been recorded in official documents, the type 9M38 missile is painted white, while the type 9M38M1 missile is green with a white ceramic nose. According to the manufacturer Almaz-Antey the 9M38 missile typically contains a warhead (detonating explosive) 9N314 comprising two types of pre-moulded steel fragments (square and what is known as filler), whereas the more recent warhead type 9N314M contains three types of pre-moulded steel fragments (i.e. a tile-shaped fragment, a rod-shaped fragment and a distinctive bow tie-shaped fragment).
The case file also comprises the results of examining the damage to the pieces of wreckage from the MH17 aircraft, parts of which were included in the reconstruction positioned at Gilze-Rijen air-force base. The court discussed those results. These concern the findings arising from the investigation into the damage site, its delimitation and the type of damage (e.g. perforations, abrasive damage and fire damage). This reveals inter alia that the damage is concentrated at the upper left of the cockpit, and that the damage pattern is composed of hundreds of small and larger perforations, where the plate material is curved inward. According to the investigation team, the damage observed clearly originated outside the aircraft. The different aircraft parts examined reveal craters or perforations caused by the impact of steel.
Experts from the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR), the Royal Military Academy (RMA) and Almaz-Antey have viewed and assessed the damage to the pieces of wreckage. Sections of their findings and their statements to the investigating judge were mentioned by the court as well.
Objects and fragments found in parts of the MH17 aircraft, in the remains of those on board and at the crash site were examined as well. Those objects and fragments were compared with reference material. Such material was obtained from dismantled and (other) detonated (parts of) the two types of BUK missiles mentioned above. The court discussed various objects, which upon comparison with the reference material in the investigation gave rise to the suspicion that these objects are from a BUK missile.
Alternative scenarios: attack from within, attack by a fighter jet and attack with a surface-to-air missile other than a BUK missile
The investigation team investigated other ways that the MH17 aircraft might have been attacked, i.e. an attack from within, an attack by a fighter jet (air-to-air) and an attack using a surface-to-air system other than a BUK missile.
In the investigation of an attack from within the only question considered was whether an explosive inside the aircraft could have caused the MH17 aircraft to crash. Resulting in part from analysis of the Cockpit Voice Recorder, which shortly before the recording stopped registered a high-frequency sound wave coming from outside, and from investigation of the pieces of wreckage, the investigation team concluded that an attack from within is not plausible.
Various indications pointed to an attack by a fighter jet, such as statements from witnesses and intercepted phone conversations. These indications were examined in the investigation, and the results were discussed by the court. They include a report from the Russian Federation about an unidentified fighter jet (presumably an SU-25 or a MIG-29) believed to have opened fire on the cockpit cabin of the MH17 aircraft. The investigation team concluded that the sources substantiating this report are of unclear value or are even factually incorrect. The case file also includes an official notice from the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) regarding the question of whether the MH17 aircraft could have been attacked by anti-aircraft missiles. Analysis of the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder provide no indication of the presence of a SU-25, and the damage pattern on the wreckage does not correspond with the damage that an attack by a fighter jet would have caused, according to the MIVD.
Regarding the possibility that the MH17 aircraft was attacked by a surface-to-air missile other than a BUK missile, the investigation of the systems used by Russian and Ukrainian armed forces was discussed. Based on the findings, a passenger aircraft could be shot down by two systems other than the BUK system, i.e. a 2K11-Krug and an S-300V. The missile parts found at the crash site could not have come from these systems. The investigation team concluded that it is not plausible that the MH17 aircraft was attacked by either of them.
In the investigation of the possible causes of the crash of the MH17 aircraft, available radar data were used as well, as discussed by the court.
Question 2: Was a BUK missile launched from a farm field near Pervomaiskyi?
Today the court already started discussing the documents in the case file addressing the question as to whether a BUK missile was launched from a farm field near Pervomaiskyi. This discussion will figure in the summary tomorrow, when all documents about this question have been discussed.
The court has adjourned until tomorrow morning at 10.00 hours, when the documents in the case file that relate to the launch site will be discussed.