#MH17: What we know so far – UPDATED


Events are fast-moving, but it is important to be clear about what we, in the public domain, know so far about MH17 and the surrounding circumstances. This post will be updated throughout the day (LAST UPDATED 2:53 PM EST, 18 July). Please alert us to new information as well as any errors.

BREAKING: President Obama announced one American citizen was killed in the crash. He said a surface-to-air missile took the plane down and that it was launched from an area of eastern Ukraine under the control of separatist rebels. Obama called for an unbiased investigation into the downing of a plane. He demanded both sides in the conflict adhere to an immediate cease fire and that people be allowed to recover the remains of the fallen.

  • MH17, a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, crashed in eastern Ukraine with 295 298 souls aboard (including at least three infants). It was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur (see the Malaysia Airlines tweet announcing lost contact with the aircraft here).
  • Preliminary reports indicate that among the dead were 23 Americans, as many as 10 Britons, and 71 Dutch citizens  
  • Among the dead are 189 people from the Netherlands, 44 from Malaysia, 27 from Australia, 12 from Indonesia, 9 from the UK, 4 each from Belgium and Germany, 3 from the Philippines, and 1 each from Canada and New Zealand. That still leaves the nationalities of 4 passengers/crew unreported.
  • About a third of the passengers were traveling to a major AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. Joep Lange, a famous AIDS researcher and former president of the International Aids Society, was on the plane. Many other famous researchers who were working on an anti-AIDS vaccine may have also been on the plane.
  • The plane was flying at 33,000 feet and fell off radar between Donestk, a rebel contested city, and the Russian border.
  • Right before reports of the crash were announced, separatist leader Igor Girkin claimed “we just downed a plane, an AN-26…We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace.” The AN-26 is a  turboprop military and civilian transport plane. This claim was made on a social media site and was removed once reports on MH17 came out. Girkin is a Russian citizen from Moscow and the Ukrainian government alleges he is a Russian intelligence asset.
  • A pro-Russian, pro-separatist website based in Crimea reported that separatists claimed to have a Buk self-propelled surface-to-air missile system. An an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister claims that Flight MH17 was brought down by a Buk missile system. Watch this video of the Buk missile system in action (with an odd soundtrack). See the specs on the Buk here.
  • However, the government of Ukraine claims it has accounted for all 60 of it’s Buk systems and that the Buk used by the rebels was obtained from Russia. The Ukrainian ambassador to NATO saidThey try to cover Russian arms supply by publicly stating they have captured equipment in the days or weeks before they use it.”
  • On the day of the crash, an Associated Press reporter claimed to have seen a Buk missile system in Snizhne, a rebel held town in Ukraine’s east. Snizhne is very close to the area where MH17 crashed.
  • U.S. intelligence officials claim the plane was taken down by a surface-to-air missile. According to The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. agencies are divided over whether the missile was launched by the Russian military or by pro-Russia separatist rebels…”
  • On the morning of the crash, Pentagon Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said, “We are concerned about the build-up we see along the Russia-Ukraine border. Overall, the increase in Russian presence along the Ukrainian border is concerning.”
  • The night before the crash, White House officials held a conference call with reporters during which officials claimed that Russia continues to supply Ukrainian seapratists with weapons, including heavy weapons.
  • A Ukrainian Su-25 jet was shot down over the Donetsk region on 16 July. The Ukrainian government blamed a Russian warplane. Separatists claimed responsibility. Russia denied responsibility.
  • On 14 July, a Ukrainian military An-26 transport jet was shot down from an altitude of 21,000 feet with eight crew on board. Ukraine Security Service chief Valentin Nalivaychenko said the plane was hit by a Russian missile fired from the Russian side of the border. Two members of the crew were taken prisoner by rebels.
  • Tatyana Dvoryadkina, co-chair of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic said: “We do not have any idea what this is about and who shot down the plane. We’re heading there now to investigate everything independently.”
  • President Obama and President Putin have spoken on the phone at least once.
  • Alexander Boraday, the “prime minister” of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said he might be open to a two to three day truce to allow the remains of the airliner and its passengers to be recovered.
  • Ukrainian officials claim that the separatist rebels have taken the plane’s black box and plan to hand it over to Russian authorities.
  • Many world leaders are calling for a truce in the budding Ukrainian civil war.
  • The Ukrainian security service released an audio and transcript of what it claims are rebels and a Russian intelligence official discussing the shoot-down of the plane. Watch it here. The transcript, if genuine, displays rebel forces believe they had shot down a plane, but thought that it was a military plane. It also reveals their surprise upon arriving at the crash site that it is a civilian plane: “Well, we are 100% sure that it was a civilian plane,” one rebel confirms to another. When asked by a rebel commander why a civilian plane was flying over Ukraine, another voice, alleged to be Russian intelligence official Vasili Geranin, responds: “Well then it was bringing spies. Why the hell were they flying? This is war going on.”


Ryan Evans is the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks


Image Credit: Yuriy Lapitskiy, CC