MH17 report brings some solace for families but unanswered questions remain

Loved ones express relief at suggestions that passengers’ deaths were likely to have been instantaneous, but report leaves issues of accountability unaddressed

The families of those on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 when it was shot down have spoken of their hopes that suggestions following the report into the crash are accurate, and their loved ones did not suffer prolonged and agonising deaths.

Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch safety board, said on Tuesday that those on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were likely to have been killed instantly – or have been unconscious within seconds – after a Buk missile hit the plane as it flew over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Barry Sweeney, whose son, Liam, was one of 10 victims from the UK, said he had to believe his son had died quickly or it would “hurt forever”.

“Basically [we were told] that the plane was hit by a Buk missile,” said Sweeney, whose son had been en route to New Zealand for “the trip of a lifetime” to watch Newcastle United and visit the set of Lord of the Rings.

“The cockpit then broke off, probably creating confusion in the rest of the plane. Hopefully most people were unconscious by the time this happened – and that’s probably a comfort to 298 sets of relatives.”

Sweeney said Liam was a fervent Newcastle fan and would probably have been having a drink when the missile struck.

“I’m sure he would’ve been having a few pints of Newcastle Brown Ale while on the plane and I’ll be having a few pints for him today.” He added: “We can’t be 100%, but we have to think no one suffered on that flight. I’m going to have to just go away and think, yes, Liam died instantly … because if you think otherwise it will hurt forever.”

Families of the victims have been campaigning since the disaster for authorities to try and establish what happened. After a private briefing with investigators on Tuesday, many said there were still unanswered questions.

Claudio Villaca-Vanetta, whose husband Glenn Thomas, from Blackpool, was one of those who died, said: “We had some of the answers we were looking for today, but by far not all of them.”

Thomas, a former BBC journalist and media officer with the World Health Organisation, was one of up to 100 people believed to be on their way to an Aids conference in Melbourne, Australia. The 49-year-old specialised in infectious diseases, namely HIV, TB and malaria.

Villaca-Vanetta told the BBC: “We know there was a missile which is manufactured in Russia only. Of course, this doesn’t tell us who did it, who is accountable for it. That is where we want to get now.”

The report did not deal with “blame and culpability”. A second criminal investigation by the Dutch prosecutor’s office, scheduled to conclude in early 2016, is expected to answer the most politically charged question: who shot down flight MH17?

Villaca-Vanetta said victims’ families had been told that their loved ones would have died instantly or very soon after the missile struck. But he added: “Even if it was the estimated nine seconds for somebody to lose consciousness, it is still a lot of time. For most families of victims, including myself, we went through counselling and this was maybe the hardest point to accept – the cruelty and the violence on bodies.”

Some family members reportedly became upset during the briefing, which included an animation reconstructing the plane’s final moments. Many questioned the decision to allow commercial airliners to fly over a war zone.

Animation shows Russian Buk missile hit Malaysia Airlines MH17

Villaca-Vanetta, said: “We now know for sure that Malaysia Airlines was allowed to fly there, and we know now that it was a bad decision by Ukraine to leave the airspace open and [to think] that by just raising the cruise height it was safe for commercial airliners.”

Silene Fredriks-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend, Daisy Oehlers, were both on the flight, agreed it should never have been allowed to fly over that part of Ukraine.

“They told us Ukraine should have closed the airspace. In my opinion that is not the only point. Malaysian Airlines should not have flown over Ukraine, no one should have. They closed it after MH17 but it was too late. Everyone knew how dangerous it was.”

The couple were two of 193 Dutch nationals to die on the plane, and had been on the way to Bali for a holiday after Daisy’s mother had died earlier in the year. Fredriks-Hoogzand said: “Daisy had a lot of pain and we were hoping that a few weeks holiday might give her some relief from that, but they never made it to Bali … So young, so many plans and a bright future ahead of them.”

She said she hoped that their deaths had been instantaneous. “There was no emergency call from the pilots. They think they did not suffer, did not realise what was happening.” She added that investigators said heat from the missile was likely to have killed those on board within moments.

“They told us this [the heat] might have caused death or unconsciousness of most of the victims.”

Asked if the report had provided any relief, she added: “I needed the confirmation [that the plane had been hit by a Buk missile]. But I would like to hear where it was fired from. Let’s hope the next report will tell us.”


Matthew Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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