By Zurairi AR
The Malay Mail Online
July 18, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 ― Malaysians woke up today to an eerily familiar feeling of tragedy: another one of the nation’s airplanes has gone down and, with it, hundreds of civilian lives.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was due to touch down in Kuala Lumpur at 6.10am today from Amsterdam, but it never made it home, crashing instead near the strife-torn border of Ukraine and Russia.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak described it aptly when he addressed the media at the 4am, saying this was “a tragic day in an already tragic year”, following the disappearance of Beijing-bound MH370 five months ago.
Malaysia still could not verify independently the reason behind the plane’s crash, but here is what we know so far:
1. What caused the crash?
Ukraine has accused pro-Russian separatist rebels of shooting down the plane using a vehicle-mounted Russian-built “Buk” ground-to-air missile.
Meanwhile, pro-Russian rebels claimed it was a Ukrainian jet that brought MH17 down, which was denied by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute was quoted by UK’s Guardian newspaper as saying that either Russians or Russian-supported groups in eastern Ukraine were responsible for the incident.
US intelligence analysts “strongly believe” a surface-to-air missile downed the plane and are reviewing data to determine whether the weapon was launched by pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine, Russian troops across the border or Ukrainian government forces, said an anonymous US official to AFP.
The Buk, dubbed “Grizzly” by Nato, was developed by the USSR in the 1970s to shoot down cruise and other missiles. It has since gone through many redesigns and upgrades, and been widely exported. Ukraine forces also use Buk.
2. When did this happen?
MH17 departed Amsterdam at around 6.15pm Malaysian time.
MAS was notified by the Ukrainian air traffic control that it lost contact with it four hours later.
By 11.30pm, MAS officially announced that it has lost contact with MH17; Interfax earlier reported that the plane was shot down.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak addressed the media at around 4.30 am, two hours before the flight was originally scheduled to arrive.
Malaysia will now be sending a rescue and medical team to Kiev to assist the crash.
3. Where did MH17 go down?
MH17 went down in Ukraine, near the village of Grabovo, 40km from the Russian border.
Reuters journalists reported seeing burning and charred wreckage bearing the red-and-blue colours of Malaysia normally emblazoned on MAS planes and dozens of bodies strewn in fields nearby.
The crash site is near the city of Donetsk, an alleged stronghold of pro-Russian rebels.
News agency Interfax claimed the plane disappeared when it was flying 10km above ground, a typical cruising altitude for airliners.
Additionally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) insisted that the flight did not fly over a restricted airspace.
4. Who are the victims?
A total of 280 passengers and 15 crew were on the crashed plane.
The nationalities of the passengers cannot yet be confirmed as the manifest has not been released yet.
However according to the European head of MAS, among the nationalities on board were 154 Dutch, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian.
All the crew members were Malaysians.
5. How does this affect the aviation industry?
Following the incident, commercial flights are avoiding Ukrainian airspace, and rerouted to avoid the area where MH17 crashed.
This includes another MAS flight, MH21, from Paris to Kuala Lumpur, which skirted the crash area.
American airlines have also voluntarily agreed to avoid airspace near the Russian-Ukrainian border, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s department of transport has ordered “flights already airborne” to bypass south-eastern regions of the country.
The European Union air traffic control regulator ― Eurocontrol ― has closed the airspace over eastern Ukraine and planning routes that avoid Ukraine altogether.
6. Why was MH17 shot down?
It is possible that MH17 was shot down by mistake.
A social media site attributed to a top Ukrainian rebel commander said the insurgents shot down an army transporter at the same area as the crash.
The comments by the top military commander of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” suggest the separatists believe they had shot down a large Ukrainian army transport plane.
An anonymous source also told Interfax that the missiles might have been aimed at the plane of Russian president Vladimir Putin, as he was using a similar route.
Several Ukrainian planes and helicopters have been shot down in four months of fighting in the area , and the rebels had shot down three Ukrainian transport planes this week alone.