A Boeing 777-200 of the type that was lost over Ukraine on 17 April 2014 (Image (CC) Russavia)

Malaysia airliner shot down over Ukraine

A Boeing 777-200 of the type that was lost over Ukraine on 17 April 2014 (Image (CC) Russavia)
A Boeing 777-200 of the type that was lost over Ukraine on 17 April 2014 (Image © Russavia)

LATEST UPDATE 19 JULY 2014 08:13 UTC (09:13 Amsterdam time) | A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 has been shot down over Ukraine and crashed about 50 kilometres (30 miles) west from the Russian border on 17 July 2014, Ukrainian government and US intelligence sources say. The shooting reportedly has even been admitted by pro-Russian separatists in an intercepted phone call with Russian intelligence. The airplane with flight number MH17 left Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, including 194 Dutch citizens.

The fatality number has been confirmed by Malaysia Airlines Europa vice president Huib Gorter during a press conference on Thursday evening, after the responsible Dutch minister of Security and Justice, Mr. Ivo Opstelten, already mentioned earlier on Thursday to journalists that “many Dutch are among the death”. Dutch prime minister Mr. Mark Rutte hastily returned from his pre-planned holiday, a day after it started, after his aids notified him of the events in the skies over Ukraine. The MH17 downing or crash is the second biggest aviation disaster for the people of the Netherlands since history’s biggest airline crash ever at Tenerife on 27 March 1977. At the Canary Island a Pan Am Boeing 747 collided with a KLM Jumbojet on the runway, killing 583 people including 238 Dutch.

An Ukrainian government spokesperson said on Thursday that the other nationalities are Malaysian (44, including crew), Australian (27), Indonesian (12), British (9), German (4), Belgian (4), Philippine (3), New Zealand (1), Canada (1) and the United States (1, double nationality of a Dutch citizen).

Soon after the crash Malaysia Airlines already confirmed it had lost contact with MH17, flying with KLM code share KL4103, and later confirmed it was informed of the crash by Ukrainian authorities. The flight quickly became no longer traceable on www.flightradar24.com.

33,000 feet
According to an Ukrainian interior ministry source the plane went down near Shakhtyorsk and Grabovo, about 30 to 40 miles (50 to 60 km) east of the city of Donetsk and about 21 miles (30 km) from the Tamak waypoint, after air traffic control lost it at 14:15 UTC when the 777 was flying at 33,000 feet (about 10 km) – a 1,000 feet above airspace already closed by Eurocontrol. MH17 filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 feet throughout Ukrainian airspace. However, an aircraft’s altitude in flight is determined by air traffic control on the ground. Upon entering Ukrainian airspace, MH17 was instructed by Ukrainian air traffic control to fly at 33,000 feet. According to Ukrainian emergency services parts of the plane and at least 100 bodies have been found over a distance of 10 miles (15 km) on the ground.

17 years
The plane in question has registration 9M-MRD. It’s first flight was on 17 July 1997, exactly 17 years before today’s crash. Thursday’s flight departed Amsterdam at 11:15 UTC (12:15 Amsterdam local time) and was estimated to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 22:10 UTC (06:10 Malaysia local time on Friday).

With the shooting down at the given height confirmed by Ukrainian, US and Dutch intelligence services, it illustrates direct involvement of well-trained Russian regular military personnel within or aside the rebel forces that are fighting against the Ukrainian government. To shoot down an aircraft at the altitude it reportedly flew requires very advanced surface-to-air missiles that cannot be launched from the shoulder, the so-called MANPADS that so far have claimed the loss of several Ukrainian military aircraft over the east of the country since April this year.

Most sources say pro-Russian separatists apparently got their hands on “imported” a Russian mobile SAM of the type the Novator 9K37 Buk (9К37 Бук in Russian, NATO reporting name SA-11 Gadfly) which normally roles on a tracked armoured vehicle. The Wall Street Journal quotes US intelligence sources that confirmed flight MH17 was shot down by a missile launched from the ground, from rebel held territory.

On social media pro-Russian separatist have claimed they shot down an Ukrainian Air Force Antonov AN-26, illustrating it – with yet unconfirmed – footage that supposedly shows the black smoke coming from today’s shot down aircraft. On Twitter the what appears to be first photo of the plane’s wreckage has surfaced with more horrific images posted afterwards.

The Ukrainian intelligence service apparently has intercepted a phone call made at 16:40 local time – 20 minutes after the crash – between what is believed to be a member of the pro-Russian separatists in Chornukhyne, about 20 miles (30 km) northeast of the crash site, and a Russian military intelligence officer in which both the shooting down and confirmation that it is a civilian aircraft are admitted. The alleged transcript of the conversation has been published in English by the normally well-informed Kyiv Post. But we at Airheadsfly.com cannot confirm the authenticity of the transcript nor its source.

An Ukrainian Ministry of Defence spokesperson has said that at the time of the incident Ukraine had no military planes in the air in the area where the Malaysian Airlines Boeing was flying. The US Federal Aviation Authority has been advising American companies to avoid the aerospace over eastern Ukraine where the government forces are combating the pro-Russian separatist out of fear for incidents like the one today.

German Lufthansa on Thursday immediately rerouted its flights over Ukraine after the Malaysian Airlines incident. Other airlines on Thursday evening also said they will avoid Ukrainian airspace. Later on Thursday the European Air Traffic Management agency Eurocontrol and Ukrainian ATC extended the closed Eastern Ukrainian airspace from the deck of 32,000 all the way up to space in the Eastern Ukrainian Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Region.

Thursday’s crash is the second tragedy to overcome Malaysia Airlines in 2014, only months after the disappearance of MH370. That plane left Kuala Lumpur on 8 March 2014 bound for Beijing and has yet to be found. It presumably went down in the Indian Ocean, with many speculations and theories why. The question whether state-run and already financially troubled Malaysia Airlines will survive after this second tragedy, seems justified although it very strongly appears the company and 298 people are unnecessary victims of the regional conflict that followed the Russian take-over of the Crimea peninsula in February and March this year.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editors Elmer van Hest en Marcel Burger

MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLEET (17 July 2014): 92 aircraft
Long-haul passenger transport
15 Airbus A330-300 (planned to be replaced from 2015 / 2016)
6 Airbus A380
13 Boeing 777-200ER (planned to be replaced from 2015 / 2016)

Long-haul cargo
4 Airbus A330-200F
2 Boeing 747-400F

Short- and medium-haul passenger transport
52 Boeing 737-800 (55 aircraft by 2016)

Flight MH17 shortly before is disappeared from Flightrader24.com. (Image © Flightradar24.com)
Flight MH17 shortly before it disappeared from Flightrader24.com. (Image © Flightradar24.com)