29 Sep 2016

MH17 downed by missile from Russia - investigators

5:41 am on 29 September 2016

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine in 2014 by a Buk missile that had come from Russia, international investigators have concluded.

They also narrowed down the area it was fired from to a field in territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels.

The Boeing 777 broke apart in mid-air flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board, including New Zealanders Rob Ayley and Mary Menke.

Wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, a week after the plane came down.

Wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, a week after the plane came down. Photo: AFP

The findings counter Moscow's suggestion that the passenger plane was brought down by Ukraine's military rather than the separatists.

Chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen said the BUK series 9M83 missile had been taken from Russia to rebel-held Ukraine in the morning of 17 July, when the plane was shot down, and the launcher was taken back to Russia afterwards.

The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has also narrowed the missile launch site down to a specific field near the village of Pervomaiskyi, which was then in rebel hands.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was "nothing to accept or deny", as he understood these were preliminary findings.

"We cannot accept as final truth of what they say. I bet you haven't seen any proof of what they say," he told the BBC. "We know the devil is in the detail, and we are still missing lot of the detail."

But he appeared to rule out that the missile came from Russia: "We've been ruling out the fact that any Russian weapons were shipped to Ukraine, any Russian army members, any Russian troops were inside Ukraine. And we're still ruling out that possibility."

Ukraine hailed the findings, saying it proved Russia's "direct involvement" in the downing of the plane.

"This puts an end to all of Russia's attempts to discredit the activities and conclusions of the Joint Investigation Team by spreading distorted or fabricated information," the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.

A picture shows debris at the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine.

Debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine. Photo: AFP

JIT prosecutors have established the identities of about 100 people "linked to the crash or the transport of the Buk" missile, but they are yet to determine who could be held criminally responsible.

They say they will need to establish who gave the order to move the missile launcher into eastern Ukraine, and where the order for it to be fired came from.

The relatives of those who died want to know who can be held responsible.

"Apart from wanting to know exactly what weapon was used and where it was fired from, we also want an answer as to where we go from here," said Evert van Zijtveld, who lost his 18-year-old son Robert-Jan and daughter Frederique, 19, in the tragedy.

"We want to see the perpetrators caught and put on trial," he told the AFP news agency.

Screenshot of a Joint Investigation Team video on the investigation into the flight MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Investigators said the missile was brought in from Russia. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors played recordings from intercepted phone calls during their news conference..

They said witnesses reported seeing the missile launcher move from Russia into Ukraine and presented pictures and videos.

The launch site was pinpointed by "many witnesses", prosecutors said.

Separatist rebels have denied they were involved.

"We never had such air defence systems, nor the people who could operate them," Eduard Basurin, military deputy operational commander at the rebel Donetsk People's Republic, told the Interfax news agency.

"Therefore we could not have shot down the Boeing [flight MH17]."

An inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board last year found that a Russian-made Buk missile hit the plane but was not specific about where the launch site could have been.

Earlier this week, Russia said it had radar data showing that the missile was not fired from rebel-held territory.

The JIT does not yet have access to that data, prosecutors said.

- BBC / Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs