The United Nations Security Council has demanded a full, independent, and international investigation into the apparent shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Council members stood for a minute’s silence in memory of the 298 people on board.
Flight MH17 crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border. The Boeing 777-200 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
The tragedy comes just over four months after the disappearance of Malaysian airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people on board. What happened to MH370 remains a mystery.
The Ukrainian military denies shooting down Flight MH17. Ukrainian officials are accusing pro-Russian rebels in the Donetsk region of shooting the plane down with a surface-to-air missile.
International investigators from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have arrived in Ukraine. The monitors have not been able to secure access to the crash site, however, and will try again on Saturday.
The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, said in a national televised address on Friday that the Malaysian government was dispatching a flight to Kiev, carrying a special disaster assistance and rescue team and medical personnel.
Malaysia Airlines has arranged for some 40 staff to be flown to Amsterdam to support relatives of the victims.
The flight path
Both Najib and Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, have insisted that the flight path taken by MH17 was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Liow added that the airspace MH17 was traversing was not subject to restrictions and said 15 out of 16 airlines in the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines flew the same route over Ukraine. European airlines also used the same route, he said.
The route taken by MH17 has now been closed to airline traffic. Malaysia airlines has been criticised for still using that flight path when two aircraft had already been shot down in the area this week.
According to United States intelligence, a Ukrainian cargo plane and a Ukrainian jet fighter were shot down by surface-to-air missiles in the same area that MH17 was brought down.
Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that MH17’s flight plan was approved by Eurocontrol, who are responsible for determining civil aircraft flight paths over European airspace.
“The route over Ukrainian airspace where the incident occurred is commonly used for Europe to Asia flights. A flight from a different carrier was on the same route at the time of the MH17 incident, as were a number of other flights from other carriers in the days and weeks before.
“In April, the International Civil Aviation Organization identified an area over the Crimean peninsula as risky. At no point did MH17 fly into, or request to fly into, this area. At all times, MH17 was in airspace approved by the ICAO.”
Malaysia Airlines said MH17 filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000ft 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 33,000ft.
Following this incident, Malaysia Airlines now avoided Ukrainian airspace entirely, flying further south over Turkey, the airline added.
The airline has confirmed that MH17 did not make a distress call.
A year of tragedy
Najib said that, according to information provided by Kiev Air Traffic Control, the location of the plane’s emergency locator beacon is 48 degrees 7 minutes and 23 seconds north, and 38 degrees 31 minutes and 33 seconds east.
He added: “The Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down. At this early stage, however, Malaysia is unable to verify the cause of this tragedy. But we must – and we will – find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone can be left unturned.
“If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.”
The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, has described the shooting down of the plane as “an act of terrorism”. Ukraine blames the attack on Russia, who it says has been aiding the rebels in the conflict and supplying them with advanced weapons.
Najib said: “This is a tragic day in what has already been a tragic year for Malaysia. As we work to understand what happened, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those onboard the flight.”
Liow said that if the shooting down of the plane was confirmed, “it would contravene international law, and be an outrage against human decency”.
It is the Ukrainian government that will institute the investigation into the circumstances of the tragedy, and be responsible for the conduct of the investigation.
Liow said Malaysia had been formally invited to participate in the investigation, and would send two senior accredited representatives to assist. Malaysia also welcomed calls for an independent international investigation into the incident, he said.
Malaysia Airlines said on Friday that four passengers’ nationalities remain to be verified.
The latest breakdown of nationalities of those on board the flight is as follows: 189 from the Netherlands, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 2 Indonensians, nine passengers from the UK, four from Belgium, four from Germany, three from the Philippines, one from Canada, and one from New Zealand.
Analyst alleges political manipulation
In an article entitled “Malaysian Plane Crash: Lies and Sinister Political Agenda by the West”, political analyst Alexander Clackson, who founded the media and research organisation Global Political Insight, said the shooting down of MH17 was being used by the United States and its Western allies to further isolate Russia.
Clackson said the downing of MH17 was “very beneficial” to the United States, who had been unsuccessfully trying to persuade its European allies to slap heavy sanctions on Russia.
“Clinton has already called for the EU to increase sanctions on Russia, while the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called on Russia to explain the disaster as it ‘now seems certain it’s been brought down by a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile’, despite complete lack of strong evidence for such a claim.
“While western media and politicians have unilaterally blamed Russia for the disaster, they have failed to mention the other side of the story that suggests that the Ukrainian military may have been responsible.”
The Russian news portal RT.com has reported that 121 bodies have been recovered from the MH17 wreck. At least 95 rescuers and 18 vehicles were now recovering the remains, the press service of Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry reported.
The French news agency, Agence France Presse, has reported that Ukrainian emergency workers have found the plane’s black box flight recorders. It was earlier said that the recorders had been taken by pro-Russian separatists in the area.
Those on board MH17 included many of the world’s top HIV/AIDS researchers on their way to an international conference in Australia. The world-renowned HIV researcher, Joep Lange from the Netherlands, is among those killed.