By Jim Emerson, staff writer
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) over Grabovo, Ukraine and crashed near the Russian border killing all 298 souls on board. The national/political identity of the SAM battery that attacked the commercial airliner is unknown at the time of writing. The finger pointing, accusations and conspiracy theories are currently noise disguising the truth. Even the so-called recording of pro-Russian separatists is of questionable origin. Russian military intelligence would be unbelievably—that is, implausibly–sloppy to permit discussion of a civilian shootdown over unencrypted communications. (1)
New York Times reports that two witnesses near Grabovo claim to have seen the SAM launch in the area of Snizhne, a separatist city which has been heavily bombed by the Ukrainians for the last several days. (3) Heavy overcast in the launch area made it unlikely that anyone could have seen the airliner being struck. It’s possible the Airliner just happened to fly into contested airspace unaware that it was on a route similar to those flown by Ukrainian warplanes. The theory that trigger happy separatists shot down the airliner believing it was a Ukrainian military aircraft would appear to be plausible.
Moscow and Kiev have claimed the airliner was brought down by a SAM fired either by pro-Russian militants or Ukrainian Defense Forces. In the belief that separatist rebels were not sophisticated enough to deploy a SAM, Moscow has been charged with engineering the shootdown. It’s also possible that the operators of the SAM battery were defectors from the Ukrainian military and that their lack of radar tracking ability from a centralized long range air defense network from Ukraine or Russia would account for their mistaking a Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 for a Ukrainian An-24. The overcast on that day would have made visual identification difficult, perhaps impossible.
Russia has accused Ukraine of deploying long S-300 SAM batteries to counter the ability of Russian warplanes to provide air cover for the separatists. A Ukrainian official charged the jet was downed by a Buk (SA-11 or SA-17) surface-to-air missile system which is Russian-produced, medium-range SAM equipment (NATO designation SA-11 or SA-17). The Ukrainian S-300 system was also manufactured in Russia.
Until the area has been secured and investigated by a politically impartial team, we will continue to be inundated with speculation and theory.