Three New Facts About Flight MH17's Final Moments Over Ukraine

Photograph by Dominique Faget/AFP via Getty Images

The Malaysia Airlines plane destroyed in Ukraine nearly two months ago was a completely routine flight until something punctured the aircraft, according to the first report (PDF) from Dutch investigators. The preliminary findings released on Tuesday strongly bolster the theory that a missile downed Flight MH17 and killed all 283 people aboard, even though the Dutch inquiry isn’t ready to assign blame to a missile or where it came from.

Most of the passengers—193—were Dutch citizens, so the country is at the forefront of international efforts to figure out what happened. Here are three new findings from the report:

All data recording ended quickly. Neither the plane’s cockpit voice recorder—which captures 30-minute loops of cockpit conversation—nor the flight data recorder showed anything abnormal. The plane was at 33,000 feet, cruising at 568 miles per hour, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the nearest aircraft. Both devices stopped abruptly at local time 13:20:03, suggesting that a catastrophic event disabled both systems simultaneously.

Whatever happened didn’t originate inside the plane. Dutch investigators said that puncture damage on parts of the aircraft “was consistent with damage that would be expected from a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside.” More to the point, the inquiry said that damage observed in the cockpit and forward parts of the cabin wasn’t consistent with damage that would occur “from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.” Metal fragments were also found in the bodies of crew members, according to a report in Bloomberg News.

The plane broke apart in flight. The jet’s abrupt disappearance from Russian and Ukrainian radar, along with the wide dispersal of aircraft sections, suggests that the plane came apart at a high altitude. Most of the craft was found about 8.5 km from the last radar contact. The cockpit and front part of the cabin was closer to the last radar contact, suggesting that it broke off and traveled less distance than the center and rear sections.

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