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MH17: Joint investigation pinpoints firing site of missile

Investigators have concluded that a surface-to-air missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was fired from eastern Ukrainian territory held by rebels.

The destruction of the Boeing 777-200ER on 17 July 2014 had previously been attributed to the launch of a Buk weapon following an inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board.

But while the air accident investigation is complete, parallel criminal inquiries are still progressing.

The five-nation joint investigation team has concluded that the launch site for the missile was an area of farmland near the village of Pervomaiskiy, some 10km east of Torez and 20km from the 777 crash site.

“We have no doubt whatsoever that conclusions we’re presenting today is accurate,” said the team in a 28 September briefing.

Wire-tapped conversations from 16 July 2014 revealed discussions mentioning an urgent need for a Buk weapon to achieve objectives in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and also show that the Buk was delivered.

The inquiry has reconstructed most of the route taken by the mobile launcher as it was transported from Russia into Ukraine, travelling through Yenakijeve, Donetsk, Torez and Snizhne before reaching its destination.

Evidence for the weapon’s route has been derived from social media, analysis of intercepted telephone traffic between officers and commanders, the range and locations of telephone masts, social media images and accounts from numerous witnesses.

The area of farmland near Pervomaiskiy is “without any doubt” the site of the launch, says the investigation team.

It points out that it has accumulated several images of the missile’s smoke trail – and examined them for authenticity, discounting the possibility of doctoring or misinterpretation – and heard witness accounts of sounds and sights which back up the missile-launch scenario.

The inquiry also found evidence of an extensively-scorched area of a field, consistent with the launch location, which had subsequently been ploughed to prevent a fire spreading.

Investigators also tracked the exit of the Buk launch vehicle, stating that it left Ukraine via Luhansk.

The briefing was contained to the launch-site analysis and did not expand on individual suspects or the circumstances leading to the attack on MH17.

Investigators looked into an alternative possible launch site, identified by the Russian defence ministry as Ukrainian-controlled territory. But analysis discounted this location as the launch site and, besides, the investigation found the territory was not being held by Ukraine but by pro-Russian fighters.

The inquiry points out that the Pervomaiskiy site is consistent with the suspected launch-site region determined during the Dutch Safety Board’s probe.

Dutch chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, speaking during the briefing, stated that the theory of an air-to-air attack on MH17 had been “excluded”.

“If MH17 had been shot down by another aircraft, this would have been visible on radar images,” he says. Radar data was provided by both Ukraine and Russia, he adds, although additional recent data from Russia has yet to be received.

Radar evidence has been supplemented by data from a mobile radar, albeit with limited range, that was undergoing software tests in Ukraine at the time. Westerbeke adds that air traffic control audio recordings have also contributed to development of a “sufficiently comprehensive picture” of the airspace situation, and that the inquiry has concluded that “no other aircraft” was flying in the vicinity of MH17.

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