MH17 crash report: rival Dutch and Russian claims focus on Buk missile fragments

Buk manufacturer disputes Dutch report’s conclusion that butterfly-shaped shrapnel prove recent version of missile, used by Russian army, hit plane

A Buk anti-aircraft missile has been considered the most plausible culprit in bringing down MH17 since the first hours after the crash, so the conclusion of the Dutch safety board report comes as little surprise.

With the report issued on Tuesday failing to point the finger of blame, however, there are still questions about exactly what kind of Buk system, and under whose control, was used to bring down MH17.

Most evidence appears to point to a missile launched from separatist-controlled territory, possibly by a Buk brought across the border from Russia. But the Russian manufacturers of the Buk pushed their own account on Tuesday, claiming the warhead was an older version not in service with the Russian army but still used by the Ukrainians, and putting the launch site in a place nominally under Ukrainian control.

The critical piece of evidence taken from the MH17 crash site were two butterfly-shaped metal shrapnel fragments about 13mm wide, which the Russians deny could have been found.

The Dutch safety board report states that two such fragments, which it describes as bowtie-shaped, were recovered from the cockpit of the plane and from the body of the plane’s captain.

In a rival press conference in Moscow, Almaz-Antey, the manufacturer of Buk anti-aircraft systems, denied that any of the fragments were found at the crash site. “It is known that the Malaysian jet was peppered with diamond rather than butterfly-shaped holes,” the company said in a press release.

Their absence, Almaz-Antey said, showed that it was an old type of Buk missile, the 9M38, which was used. This was last produced in the Soviet Union in 1986, they said, and was no longer in service in the Russian army.

The Dutch report insists butterfly fragments were indeed found, and were proof that a certain kind of warhead, the 9N314M, was involved.

“Accounting for deformation and abrasion due to explosion and impact, the bowtie fragments found in the wreckage of flight MH17 match the 9N314M warhead bowtie preformed fragments in shape, size and weight,” an appendix provided by the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory said.

The Dutch report said that kind of warhead could have been used in two variants of Buk missile, the 9M38 or the newer 9M38M1.

More evidence on the precise model of the missile used may emerge later in the criminal investigation. The safety board published pictures of three missile parts that could be from both the 9M38 and the 9M38M1 variants, but noted that it had not published all the images of the recovered fragments from the missile “in order to not risk impeding the criminal investigation”.

With the Dutch and Russian reports unable to agree even on which warheads and missiles would cause which kind of damage, the evidence and counterclaims are difficult to analyse.

What is known is that the Russian claims have changed on numerous occasions since the downing of the plane. Initially, the defence ministry said MH17 had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet; when it became clear that Buk fragments had been found at the scene, this story was modified and Almaz-Antey’s version of a Ukrainian Buk was floated.

There is also a lack of clarity over who controlled the launch point that Almaz-Antey says the missile was launched from. It was close to the frontline but much of the area was under rebel control. Thus the eventual purpose of the counter-claims may not be to absolve the separatists fully, but to suggest they may have used a seized Ukrainian Buk system, rather than one sent across the border from Russia, thus formally absolving Moscow of blame.


Shaun Walker in Moscow and Julian Borger

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Flight MH17: Dutch safety report cites Buk missile and vital missing evidence
279-page report rules out many possibilities and is precise on cause of crash naming warhead model

Julian Borger

13, Oct, 2015 @6:51 PM

Article image
MH17 crash report: Dutch investigators confirm Buk missile hit plane - live updates
Follow live updates after the Dutch Safety Board released a long-awaited report into how 298 were killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine

Matthew Weaver

13, Oct, 2015 @2:04 PM

Article image
MH17: Dutch to unveil official crash report
Investigators to give technical account of how Malaysia Airlines flight came down in Ukraine but will not apportion blame

Matthew Weaver in London and Shaun Walker in Moscow

13, Oct, 2015 @7:57 AM

Article image
MH17 investigators to pinpoint missile launch in rebel-held Ukraine
Report expected to say Buk missile was fired from separatist-held area in Ukraine and its launcher smuggled back to Russia

Luke Harding

27, Sep, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
MH17: Dutch investigators say plane was punctured by 'high-energy' objects
The Dutch Safety Board publishes the first official account of how MH17 came down over Ukraine killing all 298 passengers on board

Matthew Weaver

09, Sep, 2014 @12:23 PM

Article image
The MH17 report – a guide to the flight's final moments
Dutch safety board report says Malaysia Airlines plane was hit over eastern Ukraine by Buk missile

Cath Levett, Glenn Swann, Paul Scruton, Pablo Gutiérrez and Simon Jeffery

13, Oct, 2015 @4:30 PM

Article image
Malaysia Airlines settles families' MH17 damages claims on two-year anniversary
Deals emerge after memorials were held in Ukraine and Netherlands to remember victims of plane shot down in 2014

Staff and agencies

18, Jul, 2016 @12:27 AM

Article image
Workers recover debris from MH17 crash site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine
Dutch investigators and OSCE officials supervise operation of loading fragments onto trains for examination in Kharkiv

Alec Luhn in Moscow and agencies

16, Nov, 2014 @2:42 PM

Article image
MH17 report suggests efforts were made to cover up causes of disaster
Dutch report says rocket fired from rebel-held area of Ukraine, resulting in hundreds of metal fragments in bodies of captain and first officer

Luke Harding at Gilze-Rijen airbase, Shaun Walker in Moscow and Julian Borger in London

13, Oct, 2015 @5:48 PM

Article image
MH17 crash: search for remains halted as Australia begins day of mourning
Increased fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine forces Dutch PM to suspend work on the site

Helen Davidson and agencies

06, Aug, 2014 @11:06 PM