From Crash To Investigation, Everything You Need To Know About MH17 So Far

MH17 was travelling over the conflict-hit region when it disappeared from radar. A total of 283 passengers, including some 80 children, and 15 crew members were onboard. This is a summary of what is known and not known about the crash.

What type of plane was it?

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The crashed plane was a Boeing 777-200ER, the same model as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March. The aircraft, manufactured in 1997, had a clean maintenance record and its last check was on 11 July, Malaysia Airlines said.

What happened?

Debris from the plane is strewn over several kilometres

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According to Malaysia Airlines, the plane departed Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at 10:15 GMT (12:15 local time) on 17 July and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 22:10 GMT (06:10 local time). The airline lost contact four hours later at 14:15 GMT - 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border. Footage later emerged of the crash site, and witnesses spoke of dozens of bodies on the ground.

Who or what caused the crash?

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The two sides in Ukraine's civil conflict have accused each other of shooting down the jet with a missile. US intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down the plane but it was not yet clear who fired it. Ukrainian government adviser Anton Herashchenko claimed the plane was hit by a missile fired by a Buk launcher - a Russian-made, medium-range surface-to-air missile system. Ukrainian authorities later released a recording they claimed was a conversation between pro-Russian militants admitting to shooting down the plane.

However, separatist leader Alexander Borodai accused the Ukrainian government of attacking the airliner itself. "Apparently, it's a passenger airliner indeed, truly shot down by the Ukrainian air force," he told Russia's state-run Rossiya 24 TV broadcaster. Experts says flight crash investigators should be able to determine what caused the crash from traces left on the debris.

How have Russia and separatist groups responded to accusations that they were involved?

Both have denied responsibility. Some rebel leaders suggest that Ukraine’s armed forces may have shot down the plane. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he would assist in an investigation, but he implicitly blamed Ukraine's government, saying it created the conditions for the separatist uprising.

Who was onboard?

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Flight MH17 was carrying at least 189 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and nine Britons. Other passengers came from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand. Many of those killed were delegates on their way to an international conference on Aids in Melbourne, Australia. Glenn Thomas, 49, a British media officer for the World Health Organisation (WHO), was among those who died. "We have lost a wonderful person and a great professional," said WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib. "Our hearts are broken. We are all in shock."

Other stories of passengers and crew emerging include a Malaysia-Dutch family of five, a Dutch couple on their way to Bali, an Australian pathologist and his wife returning from a European holiday, as well as a Malaysian flight steward whose wife - who also works for Malaysia Airlines - had narrowly escaped death when she pulled out of a shift working on missing flight MH370.

Where are the black boxes?

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An adviser to the Donetsk provincial governor said that the plane’s voice and data recording devices had been recovered by Ukrainian emergency services workers granted access to the crash site, but that he did not know who had possession of them currently. Aleksandr Borodai, the self-proclaimed rebel leader, said that his group had the recorders and intended to give them to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Where was the missile launched from?

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A United States official said the missile responsible for shooting down the plane was launched from a region near the towns of Torez and Snizhne.

What kind of missile shot down the plane?

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The missile that shot down MH17 was a Russian-made SA-11, also known as a Buk or a Gadfly. The SA-11 system fires missiles that are about 18 feet long and can reach higher than the 33,000 feet at which the Malaysian jet was reported to be flying. Each missile carries a high-explosive warhead. All three of the military forces in the area near the crash site — the pro-Russia separatists, the Ukrainian military and the Russian military — could possess an SA-11.

How sophisticated was the missile?

The SA-11 can reach planes flying as high as 72,000 feet, more than double the altitude of Flight 17. It has a built-in radar system that helps track aerial targets, but it requires a trained crew member to operate the hardware.

What were the rebels saying after the crash?

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Ukraine released what it said was intercepted audio of phone calls between rebels and Russian officers. In one call, a rebel is heard saying, “We have just shot down a plane.” In another call, edited by the Ukrainian intelligence service, the rebels seem to discuss an SA-11 Buk surface-to-air missile system that was moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia just before the Malaysian airliner was brought down. American administration officials said there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the recordings.

Shortly after the crash, a posting on the social media profile of a separatist leader, Igor Girkin, said that separatists had just shot down a Ukrainian military plane. The post has since been deleted.

How large is the debris field?

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Wreckage from the plane is strewn across about six square miles of farmland near the village of Grabovo. Harriet Salem at the crash site in Grabovo on Friday morning described it as "even more horrific in daylight. Firefighters fan out across fields marking sites of body parts with poles & white ribbons."

Who is in charge of the crash site?

People walk among the debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Grabovo

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Armed rebel soldiers currently control the region where the plane’s wreckage is. A delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived on Friday, but the organization’s chairman told Reuters that the crash site had not been sealed off and that the monitors did not have the access they needed. On Friday, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry said that 181 bodies had been recovered so far. He said the bodies would be moved to Kharkiv to be identified.

Why was Flight 17 flying over Ukraine?

Flight 17 was flying on an active airway that had been open and in use at higher altitudes throughout the conflict in Ukraine. Before the crash, Russia closed part of the airway that the plane would have followed if it had continued into Russian airspace. But the closing applied only to planes traveling under 32,000 feet; the Malaysia flight was above that level.

Was it safe to fly over Ukraine?

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Malaysia Airlines' senior vice-president Europe, Huib Gorter, said the flight route had been declared safe by the authorities, was being used by many other airlines and was not subject to any restrictions. Although the area where the jet crashed had a no-fly zone in place up to 9,754m (32,000ft), the airliner was flying at 10,058m (33,000ft) - above the limit.

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority says airlines' decisions on whether to fly over conflict zones will be based on a range of factors - advice from the Foreign Office, warnings in the area, weather, navigation aids, strikes and which airports are out of action. In the 48 hours running up to the MH17 crash, many airlines had chosen to keep flying in the area, data from flight tracker Planefinder shows.

According to Flight radar24, which also monitors live flight paths, the airlines that most frequently flew over Donetsk in the last week were: Aeroflot (86 flights), Singapore Airlines (75), Ukraine International Airlines (62), Lufthansa (56), and Malaysia Airlines (48). At the time of the MH17 crash on 17 July, a number of other flights were in the area.

Selected flights over eastern Ukraine on the afternoon of 17 July

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Were other airlines flying over Ukraine?

Flight path data

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Malaysia Airlines was not alone in flying over eastern Ukraine. A survey of flights to Asia from Europe in the last week found that other airlines, including Lufthansa, Thai Airways and KLM, were also flying over the region. Some, however, like Air France and British Airways, appeared to have been avoiding the area even before the crash.

Was any of the airspace over eastern Ukraine closed?

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On July 1, the airspace over eastern Ukraine was closed at altitudes up to 26,000 feet. The restrictions were raised to 32,000 feet this week after a Ukrainian military cargo plane was shot down by a missile while flying above 20,000 feet. Until then, the only surface-to-air missiles used had been smaller, shoulder-fired types, which can typically hit targets up to about 12,000 feet.

Who will investigate?

A separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo

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The Ukrainian government initiated an investigation and had invited Malaysia to participate, Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai confirmed on Friday. Sixty-two officials from Malaysia, including disaster assistance and rescue teams, medical staff, air force representatives and civil aviation department staff, are travelling to Kiev. But Malaysian authorities also called for an additional independent international investigation to be conducted.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has sent a team of international monitors to the crash site and confirmed they had been given safe access on Friday. Separatists are also co-operating with Ukrainian authorities in the course of the rescue operation, the organisation said.

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