This fragment shows part of a serial number with a broken 2 and a Cyrillic Ц from the Russian alphabet (Credit:RTL News)For the first time there is evidence that flight MH-17 was taken down by a missile. This is proven by a forensic investigation into ammunition fragments from debris of the airplane, ordered by RTL News. International experts endorse the conclusion of this investigation: MH-17 has been taken down by a BUK missile.
Last year correspondent Jeroen Akkermans took with him some fragments of the murder weapon from the crash site in Ukraine for investigation. The material has been examined by an independent institute that has conducted a confidential investigation.
Investigation into the chemical composition showed that they are remains from a BUK missile, among which fragments from the warhead – the pay load. The fragment of the warhead consists of a low-quality alloy of steel common to this form of ammunition. It appears from electroscopic enlargements that a fragment shows a cast-on Cyrillic serial number from the Russian language next to a partly broken number 2.
Mr Akkermans found this fragment in November of last year in a part of the hull of MH-17 near the village of Grabova in Eastern Ukraine. He was in the war zone four months after the crash to find the truth about the death of the 298 passengers and crew of flight MH-17.
"The debris was still lying unattended in an extensive, not enclosed area. I found more 'suspicious' fragments among the cockpit remains. Fragments that didn’t seem to belong to the airplane. Eddy van Exel not only is my camera man, but also my witness. I took the fragments for research."
International experts endorse the conclusions of the forensic investigation. Defence experts of IHS Jane’s in London look into all weapon systems worldwide. They regard the damaged and deformed fragment below as a first piece of evidence. According to them the fragment directly belongs to the pay load of a 9M317 BUK missile, the modern version of the BUK 1-2 system. Expert Nicolas De Larrinaga: "From the hour-glass form we can gather all the characteristics of an impact of a 9N314 warhead fragment. This fits perfectly."
The Polish defence journalist Juliusz Sabak attributes four fragments to MH-17 and three fragments to a soviet missile. "I think it’s a part of the missile that did not explode, a part of the tail."
The BUK is part of the soviet weapon arsenal, but has regularly been modernised over the years and belongs to the missile arsenal of countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Finland. The missile has been designed to take down an airplane from the ground. It finds its target via radar in the warhead of the missile. The warhead is designed to be able to shoot like a shotgun. The flying object ends up in a conical hail of fragments. The warhead is big, with tens of thousands of fragments weighing as much as 70 kilos altogether. These parts of the missile are left in the airplane.
With deadly speed through the hull
During impact the particles go through the hull and the interior of the plane with deadly speed. Specialist De Larrinaga recognises the deformation of the warhead fragment. "It is bent and folded in an exceptional way, which happens with objects that hit something at high speed. They bend into a mushroom shape."
Other metal particles can be attributed to the MH-17 Boeing. For example, here we see that white-hot metal particles have formed small craters in a part of the hull. Embedded deep within one of those craters there is residue of artificial insulation material, a type of rock wool that can withstand very high temperatures.
German rocket scientists Schmucker and Schiller endorse these conclusions. They have also calculated the trajectory of a BUK missile based on data which are publicly accessible and on their knowledge of missiles. Markus Schiller: "Only a BUK missile can travel the distance to the plane at such a high altitude in such a short time and inflict so much damage. The mathematics fit exactly if you match the data for a BUK missile to the MH-17 crash."
His colleague Robert Schmucker: "It is consistent with the data from the hull fragments and the trajectory of the missile that a BUK missile brought down MH-17."
This possibility was considered for some time, but as of today there is physical evidence of the murder weapon. "A lot more facts are needed for a final conclusion, however, like who is behind the attack and who is responsible for the death of 298 people," Mr Akkermans says.
The Dutch researchers hope to have some answers at the end of this year. More research and time is needed for this.
RTL News will hand over all the ammunition fragments to the Dutch Safety Board, as agreed upon. "This way, the Safety Board can judge for themselves and add the results to their own findings," says deputy editor Pieter Klein.
In a response to the RTL News investigation, the Safety Board states that the material which was found will be included in their investigation. "In their investigation the Safety Board needs the final conclusion to be corroborated by information from multiple sources. This a complicated and time-consuming process. With the information from every source it needs to be established what the connection is with the plane from Malaysia Airlines, among other things because the plane crashed in a conflict zone."
"The investigation into the crash is well under way and it focuses on many more sources than the fragments alone. Additional material for investigation is welcome, but it is important to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a connection between the material and the crashed plane."