Air traffic control loses contact with MH17 on Thursday 17 July, at a quarter past three in the afternoon, CET. The 283 passengers, some two thirds of them Dutch, set out from Amsterdam heading for Kuala Lumpur. There are 15 Malaysian crew. The Boeing 777 plummets from ten thousand metres. No one survives.
The main crash site is around 50 km from the Russia–Ukraine border. The Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists immediately accuse each other of shooting down the plane.
Ukraine’s Security Service makes public what it says is a recording of intercepted audio communication between Russian military intelligence officers and rebels. The voices talk about a plane shot down, which they thought was military. They realise it is civilian.
A few hours later US President Barack Obama levels an accusation: “Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine. Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia.”
The suspected Buk or SA-11 missile has a proximity fuse which senses the target and detonates before impact, firing out shrapnel.
Ukraine’s defence ministry posts a video on YouTube saying it shows a Buk system on the way to the Russian border minus one of its missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denies it and calls on all sides to allow an investigation into the crash.
Putin says: “No one has a right to use this tragedy for selfish political purposes. Such events should not divide, but rather unite people.”
Russian defence officials challenge US and Ukraine accusations, saying their systems detected a Ukrainian Air Force plane presumed to be an SU-25 fighter jet scrambling in the vicinity and direction of the Malaysian Boeing.
An investigation gets underway, but by this time, there are concerns the site and wreckage have been tampered with.
Other evidence is being collected.
Kirill Entin, with the Russian national research university Higher School of Economics says: “Until we have all this data, including from the investigation itself and the black boxes of the air plane, we won’t be able to answer these questions.”
British experts will examine the flight recorders recovered by the rebels on the ground to determine the cause of the disaster.