Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 split into pieces above eastern Ukraine after being hit by numerous high-speed objects, Dutch investigators have found.
Releasing an interim report into the disaster that killed 298 people, officials from the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) said the plane broke up probably as the result of structural damage caused by “a large number of high energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from the outside”.
Kiev and the West have accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air missile supplied by Moscow, but the report does not mention a missile attack or apportion blame.
Russia has blamed Ukraine government forces for the attack.
Upon the release of the report, pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine denied they have the capability to shoot down the plane.
“I can say only one thing: we simply do not have the military hardware capable of shooting down a Boeing passenger jet such as the Malaysian plane,” Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russia’s Interfax new agency.
Malaysia’s transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said those behind the attack must be punished.
“I call upon the international community and all of those involved in the Ukraine conflict to seek justice and find the perpetrators who caused this brutal act of aggression,” Mr Lai said.
“As we mourn the loss of all 298 passengers and crew, we will not relent until those responsible are brought to justice.”
The report, which came almost two months after MH17 was went down, said the Boeing 777-200 was airworthy when it took off from Amsterdam en route to Kuala Lumpur and was staffed by a “qualified and experienced crew”.
“There were no technical problems,” the 34-page report stated.
The report said the fact the plane was hit by high-speed objects “explains the abrupt end to data registration on the recorders, the simultaneous loss of contact with air traffic control and the aircraft’s disappearance from radar”.
Compiled under advice from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the report included details gathered from the cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder, satellite images and photographs, as well as radar information.
“The replay of the cockpit voice recorder matched the air traffic control communications with the aircraft,” the report said.
“The recording also included crew communication which gave no indication that there was anything abnormal with the flight.”
Investigators said damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appeared to indicate there were impacts from a large number of objects from outside the aircraft.
“The pattern of damage observed in the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems,” they said.
“The fact that there were many pieces of aircraft structure distributed over a large area, indicated that the aircraft broke up in the air.”
Report consistent with surface-to-air missile claim: Abbott
Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a statement in response to the report, saying the preliminary findings “make clear that the tragic downing of MH17 was not due to aircraft malfunction or pilot error”.
“The findings are consistent with the Government’s statement that MH17 was shot down by a large surface-to-air missile,” the statement said.
“The report draws on data from the black box, satellite imagery and photos from the crash site. Its findings are based on an objective analysis of available evidence.
“It does not attribute blame or liability for the incident – this is the role of the multinational criminal investigation led by the Dutch public prosecution service, which is currently underway.”
Flight MH17 came down on July 17, killing all on board including 38 Australians. So far 193 victims have been identified.
The brother of a Gold Coast woman who died on the flight was disappointed by the report, and maintained the plane was shot down.
Hans Sidelik said while the report was disappointing his immediate concern was repatriating his sister’s remains.
“I read somewhere that Julie Bishop announced that some of the Australian bodies were starting to fly home,” he said.
“I’m still waiting to be told that my sister has been identified. So that’s a little bit disappointing that I should happen to read that without being told.”
On Tuesday, the bodies of two more Malaysian victims arrived in Kuala Lumpur on a Malaysia Airlines chartered flight.
Family members of the victims and government dignitaries attended a special ceremony in their honour.
There were 43 Malaysians on board flight MH17. The remains of 20 passengers and 14 crew have been identified.
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said he hoped investigators could return to the crash site in eastern Ukraine before the onset of European winter.
A full report from the investigation is not expected until the middle of next year.