Click on image above, or link below, to download report
I downloaded the official Preliminary report of the MH17 crash in east Ukraine last night. I must say that although the report appears comprehensive as far as it goes – it doesn’t go far. Certainly nowhere near answering the questions everyone has about this tragedy.
It does rule out pilot error or technical malfunction. But we are almost as much in the dark about causes as we were on July 17 when the plane crashed. Except, perhaps, the evidence does not fit with an on-board bomb or other explosion. Believers in any of the other causes or conspiracy theories will all claim support from this report.
The report concludes:
Based on the preliminary findings to date, no indications of any technical or operational issues were found with the aircraft or crew prior to the ending of the CVR [Cockpit Voice Recorder] and FOR [Flight data Recorder] recording at 13.20:03 hrs.
The damage observed in the forward section of the aircraft appears to indicate that the aircraft was penetrated by a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft. It is likely that this damage resulted in a loss of structural integrity of the aircraft, leading to an in-flight break up.
This is consistent with either of the major hypotheses:
- The plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile launched by armed forces of the Kiev government, the Russian Federation or the opposition pro-autonomy militias.
- The plane was downed by an air-to-air missile launched by a Ukrainian or Russian plane (or planes).
- The plane was downed by cannon and/or machine gun fire from a Ukrainian or Russian plane (or planes).
The “high-energy objects” could be shrapnel from a missile (these are designed to explode at a distance from the target and spray it with shrapnel) or bullets. The report concludes the objects came from outside the aircraft but does not help identify their origin or nature.
The intriguing question of the damage being caused by bullets and not (or as well as) shrapnel will have to await more detailed analysis of the wreckage. So far fighting in the area has prevented a complete examination of the wreckage or its movement to a safe area for reconstruction. However, there are many high resolution photographs available on the internet which have been used to support all of the above hypotheses.
Let’s hope the current cease-fire will enable investigators to return to the crash site.
I found discussion of the Air Traffic Control surveillance data unsatisfying. It says:
For this investigation ATC surveillance data was obtained from both Ukraine (UkSATSE) D and the Russian Federation. The data obtained was the following:
Primary surveillance radar recorded by the Russian surveillance aids
Secondary surveillance radar (SSR / Mode S)
Automatic Dependant Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) ground based reception.
Unfortunately the second two systems only check commercial aircraft. The primary surveillance data from the Russian Federation will be critical as when first released it indicated the presence of a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH17 at the time of the crash. The preliminary report only discusses the 3 commercial airliners nearby at the time.
However, the report says that analysis of the surveillance data “is ongoing.” Hopefully the investigation team will be able to get the equivalent primary surveillance radar data from the Kiev government for this. So far Kiev has refused to make this information public and the report does not mention getting it.
This is an important preliminary report which at least confirms the aircraft was down by accidental or intentional attack. It gives absolutely no help in identifying the source of the attack and is therefore miles behind various unofficial on-line reports advancing various scenarios. So the Dutch Safety Board Report is very unsatisfying to anyone who has followed the on-line discussions.
We will now have to with another year for the final report. Although, given the political sensitivities which are likely to be involved and the requirement of feedback from various governments on reported findings, I would not be at all surprised if that takes even longer. I suspect such sensitivities may have been the reason for the delay in this preliminary report.
Meanwhile, I urge interested readers to download the preliminary report and read it for themselves. Its less than 34 pages can be read very quickly.