Q & A: Everything Currently Known / Not Known About What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17


Q: Where was the missile launched from?
A: United States official said the missile responsible for shooting down the plane was launched from rebel-controlled territory near the town of Snizhne.
Q: What kind of missile shot down the plane?
A: American intelligence officials believe the missile was a Russian-made SA-11, also known as a Buk or a Gadfly. The SA-11 system fires missiles that are about 18 feet long and can reach higher than the 33,000 feet at which the Malaysian jet was reported to be flying. Each missile carries a high-explosive warhead. All three of the military forces in the area near the crash site — the pro-Russia separatists, the Ukrainian military and the Russian military — could possess an SA-11.
Q: How sophisticated was the missile?
A: The SA-11 can reach planes flying as high as 72,000 feet, more than double the altitude of Flight 17. It has a built-in radar system that helps track aerial targets, but it requires a trained crew member to operate the hardware.


Q: Who is in charge of the crash site?
A: Armed pro-Russian rebels control the area around the plane’s wreckage.
Q: Who has had access to the site?
A: After days of obstruction from rebels, Dutch forensics experts gained broader access on Monday to the remains of victims and were permitted to search the wreckage. They were accompanied by representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been conducting an international monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine.
Q: How close to the crash site is the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military?
A: As experts began their work on Monday, heavy fighting continued in the nearby regional capital of Donetsk, a rebel stronghold about 50 miles from the crash site.
Q: Which countries are involved in the investigation?
A: On Monday, an international team of forensic experts and investigators from the Netherlands, Germany, United States, Britain, Australia and Malaysia began assembling in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine’s biggest city and where the Ukrainian government said it planned to base the investigation. The city is about 190 miles north of the crash site and is under the control of the government in Kiev.
Q: What is happening with the bodies of the victims?
A: Rebels and a crew of untrained rescue workers loaded bodies into four refrigerated rail cars in a fly-infested railway station in Torez, a coal-mining town in eastern Ukraine. The train, carrying 282 bodies and body parts from as many as 16 other victims, will go to Kharkiv, outside the rebel-held area. From there, the bodies will be flown to Amsterdam. More than half the victims were Dutch; the others came from more than half a dozen countries.
Q: What is happening with the black boxes?
A: Russian-backed rebels agreed to give the plane’s flight recorder boxes to the Malaysian government, according to Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia. He said the boxes would be handed over to Malaysian representatives in Donetsk.
Q: How large is the debris field?
A: Wreckage from the plane is strewn across about 13 square miles of farmland near the village of Grabovo.


Q: Who is responsible?
A: American officials have concluded that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched from rebel-held territory. The United States has accused Russia of providing the missile system to the rebels, training them how to use it and possibly even providing experts to help fire it. The Ukrainian government said on Saturday that it had proof that Russia provided the missile system.
Q: How have Russia and separatist groups responded to accusations that they were involved?
A: Both have denied responsibility. Some rebel leaders suggested that Ukraine’s armed forces may have shot down the plane. Russia has said the Ukrainian military’s antiaircraft weapons may have been responsible. The Russian Defense Ministry said at a briefing on Monday that images purporting to show a missile system being driven toward Russia after the downing of the plane were fake, according to Interfax. The ministry also said that an American satellite was flying over eastern Ukraine at the time of the crash, Interfax reported, and it asked Washington to release the satellite imagery.
Q: What were the rebels saying after the crash?

A: Ukraine released what it said was intercepted audio of phone calls between rebels and Russian officers. In one call, a rebel is heard saying, “We have just shot down a plane.” In another call, edited by the Ukrainian intelligence service, the rebels seem to discuss an SA-11 Buk surface-to-air missile system that was moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia just before the Malaysian airliner was brought down. American administration officials said there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the recordings.Shortly after the crash, a posting on the social media profile of a separatist leader, Igor Girkin, said that separatists had just shot down a Ukrainian military plane. The post has since been deleted.


Q: Why was Flight 17 flying over Ukraine?
A: Flight 17 was flying on an active airway that had been open and in use at higher altitudes throughout the conflict in Ukraine. Before the crash, Russia closed part of the airway that the plane would have followed if it had continued into Russian airspace. But the closing applied only to planes traveling under 32,000 feet; the Malaysia flight was above that level.
Q: Were other airlines flying over Ukraine?
A: Malaysia Airlines was not alone in flying over eastern Ukraine. A survey of flights to Asia from Europe in the last week found that other airlines, including Lufthansa, Thai Airways and KLM, were also flying over the region. Some, however, like Air France and British Airways, appeared to have been avoiding the area even before the crash.
Q: Was any of the airspace over eastern Ukraine closed?
A: On July 1, the airspace over eastern Ukraine was closed at altitudes up to 26,000 feet. The restrictions were raised to 32,000 feet this week after a Ukrainian military cargo plane was shot down by a missile while flying above 20,000 feet. Until then, the only surface-to-air missiles used had been smaller, shoulder-fired types, which can typically hit targets up to about 12,000 feet.

Dotted lines – – – – – represent Flight Control Zone Boundaries. Solid lines _______ represent Airways. The Airway / Flight Path of Flight MH17 is outlined in red. The plane was on Airway L980, which had remained open above 32,000 feet during the conflict in Ukraine. Flight MH17 was flying at altitude of 33,000 feet. Flight MH17 intended to transfer from Airway L980 to Airway A87, after crossing the Ukranian border, but, was shot down before it could do so. It is unclear whether a successful transfer into Russian airspace would have left the flight unharmed.

Q. Why was the airspace restricted but not closed completely?
A: It is unclear why the airspace was left open.
Q: Have other planes been shot down?
A: Three Ukrainian military planes have been shot down in the past month: two cargo planes and a fighter jet. In June, a cargo plane landing at Luhansk was hit with shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, killing all 49 people onboard. Earlier this week, another cargo plane flying at 22,000 feet was hit with a missile.


About Sundar JM Brown

A University of Pennsylvania-trained South Asianist, Seminary-educated Theologian, and Intelligence Community Professional, Sundar J.M. Brown specializes in analysis of Theoterrorism, Counterterrorism and HUMINT Operations. His regional focuses include terror groups/acts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Middle East and Africa. His primary expertise is Theoterrorism, the intersection of Terrorism and Theology. His present research focuses on apocalyptic themes in terrorist ideologies and on the theological components informing the radicalization and deradicalization of Violent Religious Extremists and Militants. He is the Founder and Director of the IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence. *Sundar's Twiter: @SundarJMBrown *Sundar's YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/SundarJMBrown *Sundar's Blog: www.SJMB.wordpress.com
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