Malaysia Airlines crash: Russian military commander and rebel fighters 'heard discussing' MH17 plane in 'audio recording' released by Ukraine Security Service
Fighter reportedly says: "They were bringing in spies, I don't know... There's a war going on. F***."
A recording of conversations between a man identified by Ukrainian media as a Russian military commander and rebel fighters has emerged, in which they are reportedly heard discussing the downing of a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine, shortly after 298 people killed when the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed near the eastern Ukraine border on Thursday.
The Boeing 777-200 departed Amsterdam at 12.14am local time bound for Kuala Lumpur. The jet fell between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk.
The authenticity of the recordings cannot be confirmed.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) said in the leaked audio, which they claimed to have intercepted, Bezler, also referred to as ‘Bes’, can be heard reporting to commander Vasyl Mykolaiovych Geranin of the Russian Armed Forces at 4.40pm local time on 17 July on a civil airplane that had been recently hit.
According to a transcript of the conversation translated by The Guardian, in one of the calls Belzer can be heard saying: “Just now a plane was hit and destroyed by the miners group.”
In a second conversation with the SSU said was recorded seven minutes earlier, a militant referred to as 'Major' is reported to have said: “It’s the Cernukhinskis. The Cossacks who stay in Chernuknhinks, from their post.
“The plane disintegrated in the air, above Petropavlovskaya, we found the first 200th – a civilian.”
At 5.32pm, Major is then quoted as saying: “It’s pretty bad. It was civilian debris falling in people’s yards – f***.”
In a third conversation that Ukrainian security forces claim is with Cossack rebel leader Mykola Kozitsyn, a fighter says: "Concerning the plane that was hit and destroyed in the area of Snezhnoe-Torez. It was a civilian one." Kozitsyn then asks: "What was it doing in Ukrainian territory?" The fighter reportedly responds: "Well it means they were bringing in spies, I don't know. Do you understand, there's a war going on. F***."
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Both pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government have denied shooting the aircraft down after US authorities said intelligence analysis showed it had been hit by a surface-to-air missile.
Kiev has branded the event an "act of terrorism" and demanded a UN investigation, while Russian president Vladimir Putin has insisted it would not have happened if the Ukrainian government had agreed to a ceasefire.
In a post on Russian social media site Vkontake, Igor Girkin, also known by the nom de guerre Strelkov, the commander of the pro-Russian Donbass People's Militia, is reported to have claimed that his forces shot down a plane in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine at 5.50pm (GMT+4), shortly before reports emerged the passenger jet was missing.
According to a translation obtained by The Independent, he allegedly wrote: “We warned [sic] not to fly in our sky.”
It said: “In Torez area, a 26 plane was just shot, it's lying behind 'Progress' mine. We warned not to fly in our sky. Here is the video from another 'bird fall'. Bird fall behind the slagheap, and didn't touch any living areas.”
Girkin’s original post has now been deleted from VKontakte and his subsequent posts appear to deny that the pro-Russian forces within Ukraine have the available weaponry to take down a jet at 10,000m (33,000ft).
Up to 100 of those killed on flight MH17 were delegates on their way to an international conference on Aids in Melbourne, Australia. They included world-renowned researcher Joep Lange and 49-year-old Glenn Thomas, a British media relations co-ordinator for the World Health Organisation and former BBC journalist who lived in Blackpool.
Nine Britons are now known to have died aboard flight MH17 when it crashed in eastern Ukraine, Malaysia Airlines has confirmed today. The passengers on the flight included 154 Dutch, 27 Australians, 43 Malaysians - including 15 crew, 12 people from Indonesia, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian.
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Rebels 'find plane's recording devices'
Separatist rebels say they have found "most" of the recording devices from the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
A spokesman for the insurgency's military commander, Igor Girkin, said eight out of the plane's 12 recording devices have been located.
He said Girkin was still considering whether to give international crash investigators access to the sprawling crash site.
Any investigators would need specific permission from the rebel leadership before they could safely film or take photos at the scene.
Ukraine, whose investigators have no access to the area, has called for an international probe to determine who attacked the plane and insisted it was not its military. US intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile downed the plane, but could not say who fired it.
The crash site was sprawling, spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine. Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline's red, white and blue markings lay strewn over one field. The cockpit and one turbine lay half a mile apart, and residents said the tail landed another six miles away, indicating the aircraft most likely broke up before hitting the ground.
Kenneth Quinn of the Flight Safety Foundation said an international coalition of countries should lead the investigation. The Unites States has offered to help.
Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Russia must hand over black boxes
Failure to make available the "black box" flight recorders from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane would cause Russia "major embarrassment", a UK computer systems engineering professor has said.
Not handing over black boxes to the appropriate investigating authority is "not playing by the rules", said Professor David Allerton of the University of Sheffield.
He went on: "The only reason you would do something like this is if you had something to hide."
His comments came amid reports that Russian separatists have possession of the black boxes - actually orange in colour - at the crash scene.
There are two types of black box - the cockpit voice recorder, which is a record of pilot conversations for the two hours before, and the flight data recorder which gives crash investigators information about how the aircraft's systems were working prior to an incident.
Prof Allerton said: "In this case, in which it is thought that a missile hit the plane, the discovery of the flight data recorder will effectively rule out there being either a catastrophic airframe failure on board, or that a bomb exploded on the plane.
"Sensors on the plane show its speed and lift, If an aircraft gets hit by something there are sudden and strange differences in acceleration and this will be apparent from the flight data recorder details.
"The cockpit voice recorder will be useful, too. It could be that the plane was able to fly on for a few seconds after being struck and investigators will be able to hear what the pilots said in those last moments."
Prof Allerton also stressed the importance of preserving the crash site. He said: "The impact made by the missile will be evident in the remains of the plane and will indicate how the explosion occurred and what type of device it was.
"The ground must not be tampered with. There will be a lot of very valuable information at the site."
Norman Shanks, visiting professor in aviation and security at Coventry University in the West Midlands, said: "The cockpit voice recorder could reveal whether the pilots spotted anything unusual in the seconds before the strike.
"The flight data recorder will reveal the exact time of the incident and the altitude and exact position of the aircraft.
"It is vital that professional investigators can get on the crash site. From the wreckage they will be able to determine what kind of weapon was used and where it came from."