In September 2014, Dutch investigators published a preliminary report for the MH17 crash. I understand they based there report on radar records, CVR, FDR and photos and thus can only say the flight goes as expected until multiple impacts from unidentified projectiles came from outside the plane.

I thought it was easy to identify those projectiles based on fire traces and chemical analysis on remaining wreckage, but it seems they were not able to do such analysis.

So my question is: what evidence do they have to perform their investigation? If they have wreckage, how can these be pieces coming from the aircraft? Based on the pieces they recovered (and ignoring the political background due to the Ukrainian situation), what kind of conclusion can be expected?

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    $\begingroup$ In the Hollywood the residue on the impact points would take the investigators straight to a shortlist of possible sellers, unfortunately this isn't a movie. $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2014 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @ratchet freak. I know, but identifying a kind of explosive is feasable with chemical analisys, thus rejecting some of the possible weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 11, 2014 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ That assumes enough chemical residue remained after a week in the wind and rain. $\endgroup$ Sep 11, 2014 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed. But I don't know if those wreckages have been recovered and kept inside, and if it is the case if they are available to investigators. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 11, 2014 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ They examined the pieces, they did not recover them (they are still there out in the fields). Also, this is a preliminary report, not the final one. And, this is an investigation to find out the causes of the crash: extreme damage from foreign object is a suitable conclusion; finding who launched said foreign object is not part of that investigation. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Sep 11, 2014 at 12:56

3 Answers 3


Air Accident Investigation

Evidence available to the air accident investigators can include

  • Flight data recorder.
  • Cockpit voice recorder.
  • Aircraft wreckage.
    • residues, burn marks, punctures, tears and evidence of stresses.
  • ATC communication recordings and controller statements.
  • Airline records.
    • Aircraft maintenance records
    • Pilot schedules, dates of health checks, training, hours on type etc.
  • Radar and ADS-B data (position, speed, altitude etc).
  • Technical data transmitted in flight to airline, engine maker etc.
  • Photographs, measurements and other reports from investigators at crash site.
  • Eye-witness accounts from people on the ground.
  • Relevant NOTAMs.
  • Data from other aircraft in the vicinity at the time and in previous and following days (e.g. typical tracks and variations over eastern Ukraine).

In the case of MH17 the situation is obviously made more difficult by the armed conflict at the crash site and the wider political conflicts. Investigators have to take into account that some evidence may have been tampered with, destroyed or fabricated.

As others have noted, the purpose of an air-accident investigation is not to determine legal liability. Where needed, there is an entirely separate criminal investigation for that purpose.

Until they publish their report, we won't know whether the evidence available to them is sufficient for investigators to make any recommendations for changes by manufacturers, operators or regulators to reduce the number of future future occurrences of this type of incident (e.g. recommending airlines don't fly at any height over areas where there is armed conflict).

Other Investigations

Evidence relevant to other types of investigation might include

  • US records of alleged missile launches detected by strategic/tactical missile detection satellites.
  • Ukrainian alleged intercepts of separatist radio communications.
  • Online material allegedly published by Ukrainian separatists.
  • Online photos and videos alleged to be of Russian missile launchers in transit through the Ukraine-Russia border regions.

It is difficult to see how the conditions could ever be conducive to a satisfactory judicial investigation of this material acceptable to all parties with an interest in the incident.


I have the impression you are mixing two different types of investigation:

  • criminal investigation (interested in finding the culprit of a crime)

  • Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation (whose purpose is the prevention of similar accidents and incidents cit from Page 3)

The investigation you cite is of the second kind: they are interested in finding out whether the loss of MH17 was due to some aeronautic-related cause (pilot training, maintenance, manufacture, etc.) and eventually how to avoid similar losses in the future.

In this preliminary report they state that the cause of the loss was the impact with several foreign objects. This is a prefectly accebtable conclusion for such investigation.

You were expecting instead an investigation and a report of the criminal kind. For what I know, you will have to wait quite longer for that.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree this is a suitable conclusion. In the purpose of explaning the causes of the accident, something more precise would be welcome. (e.g. the kind and the trajectory of the projectiles, the systems damaged by thos projectil,...) My question remains: what are the pieces of evidence investigators have? is this enough to explain the causes of the accident? $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Sep 12, 2014 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ManuH the systems damaged by those fragments will probably be listed in the final report (if deemed useful information). The pieces of evidence used are listed in the released report. The future intermidiate reports may contain an assesment on whether additional data is required. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Sep 12, 2014 at 16:33

In the full report by the Dutch Safety Board, there is a list of all materials retrieved from the crash sites. These include:

  • Cockpit Voice Recorder
  • Flight Data Recorder
  • Remains of the crew and passengers
  • Personal belongings of the crew and passengers, including data carriers such as smartphones and cameras
  • Parts of the wreckage
  • Parts of a surface-to-air missile and its warhead

Additional information available includes:

  • UkSATSE secondary surveillance radar, both raw data and processed data
  • A video film of a radar screen showing processed secondary data from UkSATSE
  • ADS-B data from UkSATSE
  • A video film of a radar screen showing processed primary and secondary data from GKOVD

At the Gilze-Rijen Air Force Base, a reconstruction of part of the aircraft was made with the found parts of the wreckage. This was used in the investigation and the subsequent court case.


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