Below right: Black boxes being handed over to Malaysian delegation
Since the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 in Ukraine's Donetsk region, questions have been raised about why the plane was flying over a war zone. MH-17's flight path on July 17 diverged from the path taken during earlier flights over Ukraine. On some previous occasions the plane flew a route further to the south, over the Sea of Azov - a route declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
According to flightaware.com on the day of the crash, MH-17's flight path diverted northward taking the Boeing directly over the Donetsk region. The following graphic illustrates the approximate distance between the different flight paths:
Even though approved, the specifics of MH-17's flight path on July 17 didn't come from Eurocontrol. Was the pilot directed to take a path over the Donetsk oblast by Ukrainian ground control or was the route influenced by other as yet unknown factors? Weather conditions, considerations related to fuel consumption have been cited as reasons why the flight path might have been chosen, but given reported apprehensions on the part of some crew members and the recent loss of Malaysian Air MH-370 it would seem like additional risk the airline didn't need.
Ukrainian Air Traffic Control should be able to shed light on the communications with the plane, but according to a number of sources Ukraine's SBU security service confiscated the recording between MH-17 and Ukrainian air traffic control. Given the ramifications of this disaster any chances of obtaining an undoctored version at a later point are improbable.
Even though much of the region remained open to civil aviation, prior to the crash a number of jurisdictions issued warnings about flying over parts of Ukraine, including the American FAA. In fact the FAA banned American carriers from flying below 32,000 feet in the air corridor where MH-17 went down.
Recent incidents would certainly indicate that overflying the region carries some risk. Five MI-24 Hind and two MI-8 helicopters were shot down in recent weeks. Military transport planes - an AN-2 and an AN-30 - were also shot down. A cruising altitude over the 30,000 feet mark is no insurance against surface-to-air systems such as the BUK - SA-11 Gadfly.
In addition to changes in the route, the plane's altitude was also altered. According to a report in Malaymail online, MH-17 initially filed a flight plan to fly at 35,000 feet over Ukrainian territory and was subsequently instructed by Ukrainian ground control to fly lower - at 33,000. A number of other details relating to the flight have led some to question whether MH-17 may have been set up... made a softer target than might otherwise be the case.
KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said tonight that it was told to fly low over Ukrainian airspace by ground controllers, putting it at 33,000 feet, just skimming 1,000 feet above restricted altitude.
In a statement here, MAS explained that MH17 had initially filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 feet above Ukrainian territory, which it described as close to the “optimum altitude”.
“However, an aircraft’s altitude in flight is determined by air traffic control on the ground.
“Upon entering Ukrainian airspace, MH17 was instructed by Ukrainian air traffic control to fly at 33,000 feet,” the national carrier said.
The decision by MH17’s pilots to skim closely to the prohibited air zone — which is 32,000 feet, according to Europe’s aviation authority Eurocontrol — has prompted numerous questions whether this may have contributed to what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity.
In the rush to blame Russia questionable "evidence" has been thrown into the mix. The videos, audio and tweets that appeared on the heels of the tragedy and seemingly implicated Russia were treated by an expert on a CNN talking heads panel with some skepticism... in his view the insta-evidence was all a little too convenient. What needs to happen is a credible international inquiry and until then the tragedy shouldn't be exploited to score cheap political points.
Some of the video "evidence" pointing the finger at Russia includes photos and video of a BUK rocket launcher supposedly being transported back to Russia after firing on MH-17. The story and photos of the launcher appeared in the UK's Daily Mail and the Drudge Report along with the observation that the launcher was missing several rockets - allegedly fired during the shoot down. The video "evidence" was even referenced by John Kerry.
In this update a Zero Hedge post describes how Russian bloggers noticed a few anomalies in the video:
... going by the billboard and other features of the scenery, Russian bloggers and news sources claim to have identified the road in the video as having been taken in or near the town of Krasnoarmeisk (“Krasnoarmiysk” in Ukrainian), which has been under Kiev’s control since May.
In fact, the billboard is supposedly advertising a Krasnoarmeisk car dealership. Also, one of the structures in the background is said to be a construction materials store on Gorkii Street, Krasnoarmeisk.
Please note that this town is (very roughly) 120 kilometers from the Russian border and 80 kilometers from where the Malaysian 777 went down. And again, it has been under Kiev’s control since May.
At least one other clip of the “Russian Buk” that has been made available also suggests that the Ukrainians are showing their own equipment. I’m still working on researching that one for you.
The American libertarian Ron Paul provides more food for thought on the allegations against Russia in a recent article entitled What the Media Won't Report About Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
The Russians contend that a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet was in the vicinity of MH-17 before the crash, and claim they have evidence to back up their assertion. At a news conference Lt-General Andrey Kartopolov said: “[We] would like to get an explanation as to why the military jet was flying along a civil aviation corridor at almost the same time and at the same level as a passenger plane... The SU-25 fighter jet can gain an altitude of 10km, according to its specification... It’s equipped with air-to-air R-60 missiles that can hit a target at a distance up to 12km, up to 5km for sure.” Kartopolov claims the presence of the SU-25 fighter can be confirmed by video shots made by the Rostov monitoring center.
Kartopolov also made the claim that MH-17 was shot down within the operating range of the Ukrainian army's surface-to-air BUK missile systems. The Russian military has satellite shots that show Ukrainian Buk missile defense units in the Dontesk region. When MH-17 crashed an American satellite was passing over eastern Ukraine. Russia's Defense Ministry has urged the US to release any photos and data captured by their satellite.
Over and above the question of who gave the order that brought down MH-17, there is the larger issue of the conflict in Ukraine that made the tragedy possible in the first place. US/EU interference in Ukraine's internal affairs and the push earlier in the year to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected government in Kiev threw the country into strife. The subsequent conflict in the south-east has led to extensive loss of civilian life, the destruction of infrastructure, a growing army of refugees and now the downing of a civilian airliner with the tragic deaths of foreign nationals. These tragedies are a direct consequence of the American-backed "regime change" in Kiev earlier in the year and the regional conflicts that it sparked... events in which Washington and its EU partners played a key role.