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Vladimir Putin should speak to families of MH17 victims, says grieving relative

Published 13/10/2015

A floral tribute at the funeral of Flight MH17 victim Liam Sweeney.
A floral tribute at the funeral of Flight MH17 victim Liam Sweeney.

Russian president Vladimir Putin should speak to families of the 298 people who died on flight MH17, the grieving sister of one of the victims has said after Dutch investigators revealed it was brought down by a Russian-made missile.

The warhead exploded just outside the cockpit of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 as it passed over fighting in eastern Ukraine last July, causing the front of the plane to shear off.

A major inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) did not set out to ascertain who was to blame but has indicated the Russian-made Buk was fired from a 320km square area, where, it is known, pro-Russian separatists were active.

For their part, Russian experts have blamed Ukrainian government forces for firing the missile.

Tracey Withers, whose brother Glenn Thomas was among the 10 Britons who died, told ITV News that if Mr Putin had time to call Elton John, he should make the effort to speak to grieving relatives. The Russian leader had spoken to the star about gay rights.

The report had some comfort for families, after it reported that passengers and crew on the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight would have died swiftly after the explosion.

"It does make you feel better," she told ITV News.

"You don't want any of them to suffer."

Barry Sweeney, whose 28-year-old son Liam was on board, also wanted to know that the end was instant.

"We cannot be 100%, but we have to think that was the case," he told the BBC.

He added: "I'm going to have to go away and think 'Yes, Liam died instantly as (did) 297 other people'. If you think otherwise, it's just going to hurt forever."

The DSB said there were lessons for the aviation industry to learn about flying over war zones.

There were 160 planes which flew over eastern Ukraine that day, and three others were in the area when it was brought down.

In the previous days several military aircraft had been shot down at lower altitude. Air space above 32,000ft was open to commercial flights.

Outlining the report findings, DSB chairman Tjibbe Joustra said: "Every single one of those operators thought that was safe," he said.

The report recommended that countries where armed conflict was taking place should do more to ensure air safety and carriers should be more transparent about the routes they use.

In response, the British Airline Pilots' Association called for greater international co-operation on no fly zones.

Flight MH17's tail probably fell to the ground first, with the central section flipping over and catching fire on impact, the DSB said.

Debris was scattered over a 50km area on the ground where fighting between rebel separatists and government troops was going on.

Experts reconstructed the sections of the front of the plane at the Gilze-Rijen air base in the Netherlands.

An animation showed the route the doomed plane took, how it changed course to avoid a thunderstorm, then demonstrated how the front section sheared away after impact.

The issue of who fired the missile will be dealt with later by prosecutors.

After the findings were released, Prime Minister David Cameron, said: "We have always been clear that justice must be done for all of the victims of MH17 and today's report brings us one step closer to establishing the truth.

"We, alongside our partners, will continue to send a clear message; those responsible for downing this plane will be held to account."

Mr Sweeney would also welcome speaking to Mr Putin.

"If he has got nothing to hide, why not?" he said.

"I think somebody has to be accountable for what happened. If it was not him he knows exactly who it was."

Mr Sweeney, from Newcastle, praised the "meticulous" Dutch investigation, which came up with detailed information in the 15 months it ran. That gave him confidence that the prosecutors would also find answers.

"Fingers are now pointing," he said. "Everybody has to stay calm."

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