Here's how you find out who shot down MH17

Here's how you find out who shot down MH17
The evidence is out there, waiting to be found. Credit: Igor Kovalenko

More than a month has passed since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed with the loss of all 298 lives on board. But despite the disturbances at the crash site near the small town of Grabovo, near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, it is still possible to piece together what happened.

In the immediate aftermath it was reported that the had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Shortly after the crash Igor Girkin, leader of the separatists, took credit for the incident, claiming his troops had shot down what was assumed to be a Ukranian military transport. After learning it was a civilian airliner he later denied any involvement, claiming his forces had no weapons capable of shooting down an aircraft flying at 33,000ft, as MH17 was.

In the weeks since there have been claims and counterclaims about which side had access to one of the Buk M1 missile launchers thought to be responsible for downing the plane. It's possible to get nearer the truth of what happened to MH17 by combining evidence from four elements in play the moment the airliner came down: the secondary radar systems that monitor the airspace over eastern Ukraine, the flight data recorder ("") carried by the Boeing 777 aircraft, the specification of the Buk M1 missile system, and the wreckage of MH17.

The view from air traffic control

The main source of information about aircraft for controllers is secondary surveillance radar (SSR). This is a link between an interrogator unit on the ground and a transponder on board an aircraft. The interrogator will connect to any aircraft within its range at least once every four seconds. The aircraft responds with flight information, such as the aircraft's identification, position coordinates, course, and height.

This information is processed, and correlated with the results of any primary surveillance radar – the objects detected by beaming out radio waves and recording what is reflected back by solid objects.

This is displayed to the en-route controller, in this case the staff monitoring Dnipropetrovsk flight information region eastbound, in Ukrainian government-controlled territory. This system will be able to locate a flight's position to within 500 metres, given (in this case) MH17's cruising speed of around 600 knots. All this coordinate tracking data will be recorded and stored for investigation purposes. It is highly unlikely that it could have been tampered with.

Here's how you find out who shot down MH17
The still-contested area in which MH17 came down. Author provided

Data within the black box

A flight data recorder (FDR), commonly referred to as the black box, records all instructions sent to any electronic systems on the aircraft. It records flight characteristics such as altitude, speed, commands sent to the engines or control surfaces of the plane such as the rudder, ailerons and flaps, and streams of data from many sensors and on-board computers, including GPS coordinates accurate to within 10 metres.

Usually mounted in the aircraft's tail section where it is more likely to survive a crash, the recorder is updated several times a second throughout the flight. This information is crucial for accident investigations and to determine safety issues.

It would be virtually impossible to tamper with the FDR data as it is encoded, and follows a given sequence using set patterns that would reveal any attempt to alter it. Using the black box data it will be possible to pinpoint the coordinates of MH17 when it suffered the catastrophic event to within ten metres, and to demonstrate that this was not caused by any mechanical or electrical failure, or pilot error.

The missile system

Intelligence reports have indicated that the missile that brought down MH17 was a Russian Buk M1 Self Propelled Air Defence System, also known by its NATO reporting name of SA-11 "Gadfly". Introduced in 1979, its latest updated version is known as the SA-17 "Grizzly". Both are used by Russia, most of the ex-Warsaw Pact countries, and other nations to which Russia exports weapons.

The SA-11/SA-17 is mounted on tracked vehicles, making it easy to move. Importantly its radar is capable of IFF – that is, identifying an aircraft as friend or foe, or whether it is a commercial – using the same secondary radar transponder as air traffic control. However, the designers also implemented a backup mode that allows missile targeting to operate autonomously, bypassing the IFF safety feature. Used like this, the radar will show all targets in range. In this case, the operator selects one just presses the fire button. Only very basic training is required to operate the system like this.

The missile has a range of 42km (26 miles) and an operational ceiling of 25km (82,000ft). With a speed of 850 metres/sec (1,900mph), the missile could reach MH17 from launch in 11.5 seconds. The warhead is fitted with a proximity fuse which activates 100-300ft (30-90 metres) from its target. This fires a fragmentation charge which results in thousands of pieces of shrapnel accelerating in an spread pattern. The SA-11 is reputed to have a kill rate of 95%, so it is more than capable of downing MH17 even with virtually untrained operators.

Here's how you find out who shot down MH17
A Buk M1 surface-to-air missile launcher. Credit: Ajvol:.

The story told by the wreckage

The crash site covers an area of around 20 square kilometres near Grabovo, although larger parts of the aircraft are found in a much smaller area. There is little argument that the plane was shot down, so the investigation will focus on the shrapnel damage. By examining the position and angle of holes in the aircraft's fuselage it will be possible to tell the approximate direction and angle from which the missile hit the airliner. With this information, investigators will be able to trace the reverse trajectory to locate the missile's point of launch to within 100 metres.

Chemical residues on pieces of shrapnel found among the wreckage will confirm whether the warhead was a SA-11/SA-17 missile. And metallurgy analysis of the shrapnel may even yield important information on the specific production batch – does it match the batch of systems supplied to Ukraine, or is it from another unknown batch, potentially from Russia?

Assembling the Evidence

So pull all the evidence together – what do you have?

  • The data from air traffic control's secondary surveillance radar provides MH17's course and coordinates to within 500 metres.
  • The can show whether or not a component or systems failure, or pilot error that caused the loss, and can pinpoint the aircraft's position even more accurately.
  • The specifications of the SA-11/SA-17 missile launcher demonstrates that it is quite capable of destroying an airliner, and that it can if necessary be operated by an inexperienced team, without the safety of an IFF-capable radar.
  • Evidence gathered from the wreckage will be able confirm whether the missile was an SA-11/SA-17, and help pinpoint the location of the missile when it was fired, and perhaps even confirm if the system was exported abroad or produced for Russian use.

The evidence is there to be found, and once all of it is available, it will provide a compelling case against whoever fired upon and brought down flight MH17.

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This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).
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Citation: Here's how you find out who shot down MH17 (2014, August 20) retrieved 19 July 2019 from
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Aug 20, 2014
Neat science.

A false flag operation has to be considered too (that is Ukrainian forces did it).

A BUK/Gadfly would leave a big trail of smoke from the rocket visible to people on the ground and by US satellites. No human saw one, and the US is silent on everything.
Unlike earlier flights that week, MH17 diverted its route to over the fighting zone. Why? And why are the black box voice tapes and air traffic recordings witheld (even from the Russian).
Note MH370 was also diverted by external influence. By who? And also not found by US satellites.

Russia and locals report a fighter jet below MH17 (the US has no comment, just refers to youtube accounts put up by Ukrainians). Some argue wreckage photos imply it was shot down with big bullets, not a missile. Others an air to air missile. Maybe not a BUK!

A Buk explodes and showers its target with no direct impact. How does this show where it came from?
The US knows. Many countries now know. We will only be shown Ukr youtubes.

Aug 20, 2014
Cool.. so really, after simply discounting pilot error, examing flight data, which is nearly impossible to tamper with, and the most revealing, and the one that is so telling - that really any idiot with very little instruction - contrary to what the pro-Russian side has kept repeating and repeating - all one has to do is find a few fragments of shrapnel, and simply compare the BUKs that Ukraine possesses to the more modern ones in Russia and other places, and one can certainly ascertain the origin of the missile.

Obviously, an air to air misslie will be COMPLETELY different from a SAM, like the BUK.

Isn't it amazing that in this day and age, even in eastern Ukraine, NOBODY pulled out their smartphones (they have LOTS of them in Ukraine, even the poorer western part!) to get a photo of the missile that hit the plane... who in eastern Ukraine, and WHY, would be suppressing this kind of video or photo?

Then again, the Ghirkin DID take "credit" for it... until he realized the trouble.

Aug 20, 2014
Michael Droy is correct.
There are no observations reported of a BUK being launched
It leaves a clearly visible thick trail of smoke and makes a hell of a noise.

Aug 20, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Aug 20, 2014
Picture of vapour trail from Snizhne:
"Leaving a vapour trail in a clear blue sky, this was the scene seconds after a missile was sent screaming towards Flight MH17 at 1,900mph.
About two seconds after this picture was taken, the Malaysia Airlines jet was blown apart in mid-air.
The rocket was apparently fired from the edge of Snizhne, a town controlled by pro-Moscow rebels. It took 12 seconds to reach its target, which was flying at an altitude of 33,000ft.

Read more: http://www.dailym...AwffTekT

Aug 20, 2014
tekram you missed a line from under the picture.

"Doomed: This is said to be a picture of the SA-11 missile being fired from Snizhne towards the MH17 flight"

Even the Daily Mail aren't sure if it is a genuine picture or not. And we now of a lot of fake information that came from Ukraine social media. Snizhne in any case was out of range.

The Daily Mail and other UK media have been decided on Putin for about 9 years now. Reports on the Socchi Winter games were almost all works of popaganda. Even the BBC is at it.

The supposed separatist controlled BUK filmed at Donetsk crossing the border, referred to in your link is also faked. The fine details shows it to be another city.

There is a lot of social media information. None is proof, much has been shown to be fake. But the US has satellite data that is certain proof one way of another. The curious case of the dog that didn't bark.
US leaders have stopped directly blaming the separatists and use much more diplomatic language

Aug 20, 2014
This video tells the alternate story.

It is good on explaining how so much of the initial story was shown to be fake.
Less good in explaining what actually happened. Best to assume we just don't know till the US shows us the real evidence or we hear the black box recording.

Note the Russians gave all their info 4 days after the event. We are still waiting to hear what teh US satellites saw.

Aug 20, 2014
Russians gave all their info 4 days after the event. We are still waiting to hear what teh US satellites saw
Apparently Russians didn't give what their satellites saw from the same reason...;-) Why are you waiting for USA satellites, after then? But what we already know for 100% certainty is, the Russia annexed the Crimea on its very own.

Aug 20, 2014
Russia doesn't have any of the detail or coverage that the US has.

It has compared it's own satellite pictures of the suggested launch sites with those that the Ukrainians gave (almost certainly actually dumbed down US pictures).

4 days after crash Russia made very clear claims which could easily be disproved if wrong.
There were not made on facebook, they were made in a presentation by top military leaders.
Flight course changed. US special satellite above the site at that very moment. 2 fighter planes following MH17. An increase of Ukrainian BUKS active in the area over the preceding few days. A sudden peak in the separate radar units they use that dropped immediately after the crash. None of these claims have been addressed by the US who merely refer to Ukrainian produced social media sources.

Aug 20, 2014
Another piece of scientific evidence (meteorological) is the data on the alleged thunderstorm that necessitated re-routing MH17's flight path over the center of a war zone.

Aug 21, 2014
My take is if it is pro-Russian separatists, We will have the voice recordings like 3 days of MH370 disappearance of "good night" last conversation from the pilot by now. Long overdue. Malaysia should demand that the black box be analyzed by them only. Since Malaysia is the victim country here.

Malaysian News Paper's report not available online but just a screen print here :


Cockpit damage is very obvious evidence. BUK wouldn't just target the cockpit. It would be underneath the entire airplane. BBC news cast deleted early reports by its Ukranian reporter's interview with locals Eastern ethnic Russian civilians saying definitely Ukranian jets near MH17. Just google " MH17 shot down" and patiently read each story with an open mind.


Aug 21, 2014
I'm surprised at the number of first time posters in this discussion.

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