Flight MH17 - Attack and Loss

Flight MH17 - Attack and Loss (Illustration) Disasters Russian Studies Social Studies Crimes and Criminals

A Google map, overlaid with details, depicts the area over which Malayasian Airlines Flight MH17 was flying when it fell to Earth on July 17, 2014. The map also locates the approximate area of the plane's debris field. Image online via BBC. Click on it for a closer view.


A field of sunflowers is in full bloom as a plane passes overhead. It is early afternoon, on 17 July 2014, and a Ukrainian farmer is working nearby.

Suddenly, he hears an unusual sound:

I was herding my cows and heard a buzzing noise. I lay on the ground and thinking only that it would not hit me and my cows. Then I looked and saw that something turns sharply and two big wings were flying. Bang. And something explodes. It came from eastern side, from the side of Sokholikha mountain.

The sound attracting the farmer’s attention comes from a Boeing 777, flying—as Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17—along Airway L980.

Aboard the plane are 298 people plus, among other cargo, some dogs and pigeons. Fresh-cut flowers, too, according to the manifest, are onboard the flight as it heads from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur.

Around 80 children are en route to various final destinations. Scientists, specializing in AIDS research, are flying-out to an international conference in Melbourne, Australia. Later, their colleagues will say these people—including Professor Joep Lange, sitting in seat 3C—are among the world’s best thinkers on how to treat, and hopefully cure, the dreaded disease.

On the ground, investigators believe, is a group of currently unknown individuals manning a surface-to-air (SAM) weapons system. It is sophisticated equipment, capable of downing an aircraft flying at 10,000 meters (33,000 feet).

For whatever reason, a missile is apparently launched.

Perhaps the senders misread their intended target. Perhaps they do not realize that innocent people, including infants, are on board. Perhaps they think the plane is an AN-26, belonging to the Ukrainian military and carrying military supplies.  (Pro-separatist rebels shot-down such a plane days before.) It’s difficult, however, to determine the plane’s colors when it’s more than six miles in the air.

Or ... maybe the missile-launchers don’t care who’s on the plane. This is, they might argue, a war zone ... isn’t it? Maybe they believe their “cause” is more important than a respectful regard for human life.

The missile, believed to be shot from a Soviet-era Buk missile system, meets its intended target. Likely detonated by a proximity fuse, it sends the plane—and its travelers—on a catastrophic course of destruction.

While no one accepts responsibility, the Ukraine government releases audio clips claimed to be intercepted discussions between pro-Russian separatists. Sorrow over the loss of people seems to be a missing ingredient of conversation as these individuals piece-together what has happened.

Because the plane’s attack occurs at such a high altitude, its debris covers many miles. No one survives.

On the ground, people not involved in the attack are stunned to learn that a plane broke-apart in the air, near the Petropavlovskaya mines. Those responsible realize the strike was not military when they see the first casualty fall to the ground. It is the body of a civilian. A woman.

Vsevolod Petrovsky, in the neighborhood of the crash site, visits the scene. He tells the world what he sees:

  • The plane broke up in the air, and the parts and human bodies are lying within a three-kilometre area.
  • I got out of the car and immediately saw the ... body of a woman, covered by some leaves.
  • There were many bodies without clothes around. Probably, their clothing was torn away after the loss of pressurization. Horrible.
  • I go further and see a hill made of the cockpit parts. The area is lit. The pilot's body is in this seat, with seat belt fastened, he is dressed in his clothes.
  • Among the plane parts there were many parcels. Letters tied with a rope, books, old vinyl records, somebody's shoes.
  • Children's caps with the Dutch national flag colours. Amazingly, almost all of these things are not destroyed.

How was it that observers can see such things, after the plane crashed to the ground? What about the fires we see in crash-scene photos?

There was no fire in this part of the plane. The fire was in the back part which is lying not far from Grabovo [Hrabove] village.

One victim, falling such a long distance, breaks a hole in the roof of a private home’s summer terrace. Another stuns a homeowner, Irina Tipunova (age 65) who is confused about what to do next:

There was a howling noise and everything started to rattle. Then objects started falling out of the sky. And then I heard a roar and she landed in the kitchen.

Once the perpetrators realize the target is a civilian plane, filled with travelers uninvolved with separatist desires, no one accepts responsibility for the deed. Meanwhile ... family members travel to Ukraine to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.

Some of their suitcases and belongings will be unretrievable, however. Looters have seen to that.

The “Black Boxes”—two separate flight recorders—contain flight data and flight-deck communications. If independent specialists have access to them, they may be able to determine what happened to the plane and the people.

Meanwhile ... as crash victims, marked with small white flags, lie untended in the wheat and sunflower fields, unhelpful finger-pointing continues. Armed pro-Russian separatists decide when (and how) the remains will be removed and who gets access to the crash site (directing where they may, or may not, go).

When many of the crash victims finally leave Torez train station, aboard refrigerated cars which sometimes experience power outages, they travel to Kharkiv (Ukraine's second-largest city).  From there, they will make their way home, first via a flight to Eindhoven aboard either a Dutch C130 Hercules or an Australian Boeing C-17 (in which they will be properly cared-for), then to a facility in Hilversum (where they will be identified).

The first transports arrive in Eindhoven on a Dutch national day of mourning (July 23).  It is the first time the country has declared such an event since Queen Wilhelmina died in 1962. People dressed in white—the symbol of hope—line the streets of Amsterdam (in a silent march in memory of the victims) while many others stand in silent tribute as a convoy of hearses makes the trip to Hilversum. 

Applying the Law on International Crimes, the Netherlands has opened an investigation into the disaster. The prosecutorial inquiry is based, among other things, on the intentional downing of an airliner.  Of the 298 people on Flight MH17, 193 were Dutch.

In Moscow, Russians feeling great sorrow over the loss of so many people leave flowers, toys, candles, paintings and handwritten notes outside the Dutch embassy.  Many of them say:

Forgive us.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 19, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

Media Credits

Graphic online via the BBC.


The quotes from Irina Tipunova and postings by Vsevolod Petrovsky, about his visit to the crash scene, reported in the International Business Times.


Information used in this story (and its hosted links) obtained from various news sources including, principally, De Volkskrant (a Dutch-language newspaper), the BBC, ITN, RT (formerly Russia Today), DNM (Digital News Media), IBN (International Business News), Ukraine-government sources and the New York Times.


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"Flight MH17 - Attack and Loss" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 19, 2014. Aug 21, 2018.
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