Somebody Shot Down a Malaysian Airliner Over Eastern Ukraine
295 people on board
A Malaysian Airlines plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.
A surface-to-air missile reportedly struck the plane.
The Boeing 777, serial 9M-MRD, had on board 280 passengers and 15 crew It struck the ground around 50 miles northwest of Donetsk, where Ukrainian government forces are battling Russian-backed separatists. It’s not clear whether there are survivors.
Both sides deny shooting down the airliner.
Based on the last transponder signal, at 13:21 UTC the 777 was at flying at 476 knots at 33,000 feet, at the position N48.56 E37.21.
Since the major fighting began in eastern Ukraine in April, separatists armed with shoulder-fired missiles have shot several government aircraft, including An-30 and Il-76 cargo planes and many Mi-24 Hind and Mi-8 Hip helicopters.
A video showed an Il-76 releasing flares shortly after take off from Donetsk, a sign that Ukrainian cargo planes are equipped with self-defense measures against these heat-seeking missiles.
Ukraine has also fitted Andros self-defense suites and Lipa jammers to its Hinds in order to protect them against the man-portable rockets.
We don’t know much about the lightweight, lethal should-fired missiles in Ukraine, other than they pose a serious threat to Ukrainian aircraft. Separatists may have stolen some 9K310 or newer 9K38 Igla missiles from Kiev’s arsenals. Russia may have provided others. On May 2, rebels apparently used Iglas to shoot down two government Mi-24s.
But it seems unlikely that these short-range weapons could hit an airliner at cruising altitude. According to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, it was a larger, Russian-made Buk that shot down the Malaysian 777.
The Buk is a self-propelled, medium-range, medium-altitude surface-to-air missile system with a maximum range of 13 miles and a ceiling of 39,400 feet. With a semi-active radar homing guidance system and a 70-kilogram warhead, it’s entirely capable of hitting a large plane at 33,000 feet and causing a catastrophic decompression.
The Ukrainian armed forces operate the Buk. Someone recently spotted one of the launchers in eastern Ukraine.
Other reports indicate the missile that struck the 777 was a Cube that separatists captured from government stocks. But it’s likely that the Cube can’t reach targets at 33,000 feet.
It’s been a very sad year for Malaysian Airlines, with the current shoot-down following close behind the mysterious disappearance of Flight MH370.