Thursday, October 9, 2014 marks three months, since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Air crash investigators and experts are counting on a comprehensive technical analysis of the airliners’ flight data recorders (or “black-boxes”), and a scientific forensic analysis of the remains of the 283 passengers and 15 Malaysia Airlines crew members, to build the most complete picture of how the airliner was brought down, and where the “high-energy objects” that penetrated the aircraft had originated from on the morning of July 17 over war-torn Hrabove, Ukraine, as suggested in the preliminary findings of the Dutch Safety Board.
The Dutch Safety Board anticipates that it will address these and all pertinent issues of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash inside their final investigation report due to be released by July 2015.
Dutch Safety Board Preliminary Findings
Dutch Safety Board of The Netherlands, headed by Chairman Tjibbe Joustra, released on September 9, 2014, its preliminary MH17 investigation report of the causes of the Boeing 777-200 crash in war-torn Hrabove, Ukraine on July 17, 2014, in which 283 passengers and 15 crew members died on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17’s Boeing 777-200 en route from Amsterdam, The Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur.
The document entitled, “Preliminary Report: Crash Involving Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 flight MH17, Harbove, Ukraine, — 17 July 2014,” contains factual information obtained from safety investigative teams having accessible evidence of the MH17 crash site, including on-board flight records and radar stations, MH17 black-box flight data, as well as, satellite imaging and other visual sources.
The investigation is operated in accordance with the standards and recommended practices in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13. The nation-state (Ukraine) in which the Boeing 777-200 airliner safety breach occurred has delegated the investigation to the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the investigation and coordinating the international team of investigators.
It has been determined by the Dutch Safety Board in their preliminary report that a Boeing 777-200 operated by Malaysia Airlines as flight MH17 broke up in the air, as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of “high-energy” objects that penetrated the airliner’s fuselage from outside. The Board found no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by “a technical fault or by actions of the crew.”
“The cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder and data from air traffic control all suggest that flight MH17 proceeded as normal until 13:20:03 (UTC) after which it ended abruptly. A full listening of the communications among the crew members in the cockpit recorded on the cockpit voice recorder revealed no signs of any technical faults or an emergency situation. Neither were any warning tones heard in the cockpit that might have pointed to technical problems. The flight data recorder registered no aircraft system warnings, and aircraft engine parameters were consistent with normal operation during the flight. The radio communications with Ukrainian air traffic control confirm that no emergency call was made by the cockpit crew. The final calls by Ukrainian air traffic control made between 13.20:00 and 13.22:02 (UTC) remained unanswered,” the Dutch preliminary report concludes.
The report added: “The pattern of wreckage on the ground suggests that the aircraft split into pieces during flight (an in-flight break up). Based on the available maintenance history the airplane was airworthy, when it took off from Amsterdam, and there were no known technical problems. The aircraft was manned by a qualified and experienced crew.”
In addition to the international accident investigation, the Dutch Safety Board is also conducting two other independent investigations: an investigation into the decision-making process with regard to flight routes and an investigation into the availability of passenger lists.
A total of 193 Dutch nationals and 38 Australian nationals were on board Flight MH17. Malaysia had 44 nationals on the flight, and the remains of 42 of them have been brought back to Malaysia so far. Besides Malaysians, nationals from the Netherlands, Australia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand were among the 283 passengers and 15 Malaysia Airlines crew on board MH17.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said Malaysia would continue with its own safety investigation and criminal probe into the MH17 aviation tragedy through the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), alongside the Dutch team of safety investigators, including further assessments into the preliminary report of the Dutch Safety Board.
“We hope the report can help in obtaining sound evidence to bring the criminals to the international court,” he said.
Liow also said that the remains of 262 of the 298 victims on board MH17 had been identified.
He said he also hoped that the remains of the two missing Malaysian victims would be among the 27 remains undergoing identification at the Military Medical Centre in Hilversum, Amsterdam.
MH17 Crash Victims’ Forensics Investigation
A poignant independent investigation plans to study injury patterns of those on board flight MH17 along with the aircraft’s black-boxes in an attempt to establish more definitively how the plane was shot down over Hrabove, Ukraine, on July 17, the New Straits Times reported on Thursday, October 2, 2014.
Kuala Lumpur Hospital pathology consultant, Dr. Mohd Shah Mahmood, explained that forensic experts will also begin matching MH17 victims’ seating arrangements against the patterns of injuries found on their bodies once all of the victims’ remains have been identified.
The preliminary examinations of scans taken during MH17 victim identification process revealed that passengers suffered various degrees of fatal injuries, depending on their seat location on the Boeing 777-200 airliner, as wound patterns increased the further back a passenger was seated. Such pattern studies will address “entry wounds, depth of projectile in the remains, type of projectile, entry angle and exit wounds, if any,” reports the New Straits Times.
“You can see that the remains that were either intact or relatively intact were (those of victims) sitting in the front and at the back of the aircraft, while those who suffered the most injuries were (seated) in the center.”
“Investigators may also notice that those who had sat in the center of the aircraft, near the engines, suffered more serious injuries compared with those seated in the front and at the back, who did not suffer any burns.”
“There are a lot of theories going around, but since the plane had just begun its flight, the fuel tank would have been full and those sitting near the wings (where the fuel bladders are located) would have sustained more burns compared with the others,” Dr. Mahmood conveyed to the New Straits Times. He said investigators were yet to begin establishing a correlation between injuries and seating positions as not all remains have been identified.
Dr. Mahmood said most of the remains had multiple injuries from the impact of falling from more than 30,000 feet to the ground, adding that many had fractured or crushed bones in several places.
“Most of the remains in the first few batches were intact.
“That is why the process of identification was faster compared with the later remains.”
The task of MH17 victim identifications and forensics is being conducted by a multinational Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team that involves forensic experts from Germany, Belgium, Australia, United Kingdom and Malaysia.
Dr. Mahmood indicated the DVI team had found metal or foreign objects embedded in remains, when they were scanned, and he said these scans will be examined in more detail to assess crash forensics about the destruction of the Boeing 777-200 airliner on July 17.
“The Malaysian DVI team had no opportunity to examine the remains of MH17 passengers with possible criminal evidence, as they had gone straight to the criminal investigation team handled by the Dutch DVI team,” states Dr. Mahmood.
He said upon the arrival of the MH17 victims’ remains in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and later, Amsterdam, they were first scanned for chemical, biological, radiology and nuclear explosives before going through the computed tomography (CT) scan.
Dr. Mahmood added: “Using the CT scan, the DVI team would later separate the remains, which may contain embedded metals or other evidence, from the rest.
“Remains with foreign object embedded in them would be subjected to further investigation,” he said. “This is important, as the objects could be evidence that could help in the investigations into the downing of the airplane.”
It is believed that MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over war-ridden Hrabove, Ukraine on July 17, 2014. However, the Dutch Safety Board has so far only noted in its preliminary report on September 9 that “a large number of high-energy objects” penetrating the plane had caused it to break up.
Detailed Investigation of MH17 Flight Data Recorders
Dutch Safety Board spokesperson, Sara Vernooij, said further examination of MH17 flight data recorders will provide more information about the downing of the plane, including ascertaining the coordinates where the aircraft was shot down.
“A more detailed analysis of the data is also needed before we can say what kind of ‘high-energy objects’ had penetrated the aircraft,” she was quoted saying.
The MH17 black-box data may also narrow down the location where MH17 was hit, and give more information, such as the status of the Boeing 777-200 Trent 800 engines and onboard systems, as well as, the airliner’s altitude, speed, and state of its onboard systems, she said.
The Boeing 777-200 flight data recorders can also assist investigators in determining at the exact time of flight MH17’s safety breach, the position of the airliner’s flight control surfaces, such as the flaps, aileron, horizontal stabilizers, slats, spoilers and rudder.
Spokesperson, Sara Vernooij, added: “However, the process of encrypting the flight data recorders will take time, as it contains binary data (zeros and ones) that needs to be converted into workable data before it can be analyzed.”
“A more detailed analysis of the data is also needed before we can say what kind of ‘high-energy objects’ had penetrated the aircraft,” she said.
Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said he could not conclusively say if the MH17 black-boxes could show the trajectory of the high-speed object that had shot down the Boeing 777-200.
“I was there in Farnborough in the United Kingdom, when the investigators analyzed the data from both black boxes, Rahman recalled.
“As stated in the preliminary report, there were no abnormalities or warning signs heard in the cockpit voice recorder. The recording stopped abruptly.”
Rahman further commented on the scouring mark under the Boeing 777-200’s left wing, saying that “whether the black-boxes had managed to record the missile impact was subject to several conditions.”
He added: “It depends on whether the missile exploded above or below the aircraft, how severe the glancing blow was to the left wing, and how it had affected the handling of the airplane.”
The Dutch Safety Board anticipates that it will be able to answer all essential questions surrounding the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash inside their final investigation report released a year from now.
Brief summary of the Dutch Safety Board Preliminary MH17 Crash Report Findings are outlined here.
Additional details inside the complete Dutch Safety Board, Preliminary Report: Crash Involving Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 flight MH17, Harbove, Ukraine, – 17 July 2014,is available here.
Photo Credits: Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, Registration Number 9M-MRD, which is reported by Malaysia Airlines as the crashed aircraft of Flight 17.
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