Opinion

Column: Cost of Flight 17’s destruction still being counted

Last Thursday the world was horrified to learn of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Grabovo, Ukraine, by what officials described as a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile. All 298 passengers and crew members died and their remains lay in the ruins for several days before efforts were made to recover them.

The horrific carnage was made all the more disgustingly gruesome with pro-Russian separatists stomping over the crash site and tampering with evidence.

As more information came to light, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his end game for Ukraine have come under closer scrutiny. U.S. officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence claim there is a solid case that a SA-11 missile, or Buk, was fired from eastern separatist-controlled Ukraine with satellite images allegedly showing a surface-to-air missile launcher in the area. Of course, Russia denies this, counter-blaming the Ukrainian government for bring the Boeing 777 down. But the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity of the launch site.

Satellite video evidence also showed a Buk missile launcher being driven over the Russian border after the attack with one of its missiles missing.

There’s nothing simple about a Buk. The surface-to-air missile system is an advanced series of sophisticated military vehicles that can track targets with radar and fire missiles designed to knock out smart bombs and cruise missiles. Whoever used it that day had received some pretty advanced training, but the question has surfaced as to whether the civilian plane had been mistaken for a military one.

This truly was an international incident with many victims representing the Netherlands as well as Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Philippines, Canada and New Zealand. Brilliant minds were lost including key HIV/AIDS researchers and scientists on their way to the annual convention in Australia.

There’s been some Malaysia-whacking that the airline (still suffering from the unresolved loss of flight MH370 in March) shouldn’t have been in Ukraine airspace. But it was where it was allowed to go.

The Ukraine airspace includes a no-fly zone up to 9,754 metres (32,000 ft). The airline, like many other international flights, was in the considered safe zone above the limit at 10,058 metres (33,000 ft). According to the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority, airlines’ decisions on whether to fly over conflict zones depends on a wide variety of factors such as advice from their own governments and foreign office, current warnings, navigation aids, weather, and airports that could be out of commission.

The flight route had already been declared safe with no restrictions and many other airlines were already using it including Aeroflot, Air India, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.

As bodies were finally being flown home to be reunited with loved ones earlier this week, the black boxes were handed over by pro-Russian separatists and are now already in Farnborough, the headquarters of the U.K.’s Air Accident Investigation Branch whose experts are considered the world’s pre-eminent specialists in air crash analysis. They’ll extract every gram of information out of the boxes to get to the bottom of the disaster.

Many analysts already point the finger at Putin being at the bottom of it. But his ambitions for Ukraine may have already backfired with this disaster. He made an effort to step up to the plate and called for an open international investigation even as his Ukraine supporters slowed that very work down.  He’s earned himself a pariah status and the West is upping the threat of further sanctions.

The downed plane and any Russian involvement is a game changer. The Ukraine conflict could become a bigger tension, one that could threaten European security.

And that concerns everyone.

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