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Dutch Safety Board: MH17 brought down by missile in airspace that should have been closed
13 October 2015
Moment of warhead detonation (DSB animation)

Moment of warhead detonation (DSB animation)

The Dutch Safety Board concluded their investigation into the cause of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The Boeing 777-200 came broke up after a surface to air missile exploded close to the flight deck.

Flight MH17 departed Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands on July 14, 2014 on a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The flight progressed normally up to the moment when the aeroplane was flying over the eastern part of Ukraine. At 13.20 UTC a 9N314M warhead, launched by a Buk surface-to-air missile system from a 320-square-kilometre area in the eastern part of Ukraine, detonated to the left and above the cockpit. The forward section of the aircraft was penetrated by hundreds of high-energy objects coming from the warhead. As a result of the impact and the subsequent blast, the three crew members in the cockpit were killed immediately and the aeroplane broke up in the air. Wreckage from the aeroplane was distributed over various sites within an area of 50 square kilometres. All 298 occupants were killed.

The Dutch Safety Board stated that it established the cause of the crash on the basis of several sources. For example, the weapon system used was identified on the basis of, among other things, the damage pattern on the wreckage, the fragments found in the wreckage and in the bodies of crew members, and the way in which the aircraft broke up. The findings are supported by the data on the flight recorders; the Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up a sound peak during the final milliseconds. In addition, traces of paint on a number of missile fragments found match the paint on parts of a missile recovered from the area by Dutch Safety Board. Other potential causes, such as an explosion inside the aeroplane or an air-to-air missile, have been investigated and excluded. No scenario other than a Buk surface-to-air missile can explain this combination of facts. The 320-square-kilometre area from which the missile was launched has been determined on the basis of various simulations. Additional forensic investigation will be needed to establish the exact launching location; however, such an investigation lies outside the scope of the Dutch Safety Board’s mandate.

The Board also stated that airspace over eastern Ukraine should have been closed by authorities due to the ongoing armed conflict in the area. The Board noticed that the current system of responsibilities with respect to flying over conflict areas is inadequate. Operators assume that unrestricted airspaces are safe. When assessing the risk, the operators do usually take into account the safety of departure and arrival locations, but not the safety of the countries they fly over. When flying over a conflict area, an additional risk assessment is necessary. Therefore, the Dutch Safety Board considers it extremely important that parties involved in aviation – including states, international organisations such as ICAO and IATA, and operators – exchange more information about conflict areas and potential threats to civil aviation. When processing and interpreting this information, more attention should be paid to the development of the conflict, including any increase of military activity and shootings from the ground. States involved in an armed conflict should receive more incentives and better support to safeguard the safety of their airspace. In addition, the Dutch Safety Board is of the opinion that operators should give public account for their flight routes.

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