Horrific Tragedy of Ukraine Civil War: Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

Civilian Plane Shot Down by Surface to Air Missile

A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17, 2014 by a missile that was possibly fired from a surface to air weapon.  Flight MH17 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and had 280 passengers and 15 crew on board.  Currently, no known survivors have been reported.  The plane had left Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. (local time) and was estimated to arrive in Kuala Lampur International Airport on Friday at 6:10 a.m. (local time), according to Malaysia Airlines. The last known contact with the plane was at 4:21 P.M. (local time).  The plane was traveling at an altitude of approximately 33,000 feet.  Malaysian Airlines has released a partial list of passenger nationalities based on currently available flight manifest data:

  • 154 Dutch
  • 27 Australian
  • 23 Malaysian
  • 11 Indonesian
  • 6 UK
  • 4 German
  • 4 Belgian
  • 3 Philippines
  • 1 Canadian

The plane was traveling over the disputed Eastern territory of Ukraine in the region of Donetsk, approximately 25 miles from the Ukraine-Russian border. The closest village was Grabovo, a small coal-mining town. The region has been under months of conflict between Ukraine military forces and Pro-Russian rebels.  US officials state that data from military spy satellites indicate the plane was shot down by a missile.  Malaysian officials state that the flight crew did not send a distress signal, probably because of the immediate impact of a missile.

MH17 Crash Site in Donetsk Region of Ukraine. Courtesy of Associated Press.

Pro-Russian Separatist at MH17 Crash Site. Courtesy of Reuters.

Debris from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Courtesy of Reuters.

Debris from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that crashed in Eastern Ukraine. Courtesy of Reuters.

Multiple bodies have been found scattered near the debris of the plane wreckage.  The New York Times reports:

…many of the bodies strewn about in the smoldering wreckage were largely intact. A woman in a black sweater lay on her back, blood streaming from her face, her left arm raised as if signaling someone. Another victim, naked except for a black bra, lay on the field, her gray hair mixing with the green grass, one leg broken and her body torn. Pieces of the plane were scattered across the road and field: a seat back with its television display cracked; a tail fin clearly displaying the red and blue colors of Malaysia Airlines. One televised image showed a travel guide for Bali, Indonesia, almost untouched.Many of the victims were still in their seat belts, attached to pieces of the plane. One man, still in his socks but without pants, lay akimbo on the field, his right arm placed on his stomach as if in repose. Others had personal belongs nearby. A young man in blue shorts, wearing red Nike sneakers but no pants, lay with his arms and legs splayed outward, his iPhone by his side.

Routine Itineray becomes Mass Tragedy in Conflict Zone

Malaysian Airlines MH17 was traveling a usual flight path that this flight has traveled previously on a daily basis from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight path July 17, 2014. Courtesy of Washington Post.

Malaysian Airlines MH17 Flight path July 10, 2014. Courtesy of Washington Post.


Currently, air traffic around and within Ukraine airspace has come to a halt as can be seen from the map of air travel in the region:

Flight patterns around Ukraine. Courtesy of Washington Post.


The following video shows raw footage from crash site from a Russian news service (warning graphic images):


Report written by Bobby Kapur, M.D., M.P.H.


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