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Malaysia Airlines flight MH17: Plane 'hit by large number of high energy objects' investigators say

By Peter Woodman

The wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 - downed over Ukraine in July - was "consistent with the damage that would be expected from a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside", crash investigators said today.

The fact that there were many pieces of aircraft structure distributed over a large area indicated that the Boeing 777, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, broke up in the air, a preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) said.

A total of 298 people, including 10 Britons, died in the July 17 incident, which came only weeks after another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared over the Indian Ocean.

The DSB said the black boxes recovered from the war-torn crash site in Ukraine showed no evidence of manipulation.

The black box cockpit voice recorder (CVR) which provided a record of pilots' conversations "gave no indication of any malfunction or emergency" before the crash.

The black box flight data recorder (FDR) showed no evidence of technical malfunctions or warnings. Both recordings ended at three seconds past 1.20pm local time.

At the time of the crash, the aircraft was flying at a height of 33,000ft in the eastern part of Ukraine. It was flying on a constant heading, speed and altitude when the FDR ended, the DSB report said.

At the time of the crash, the Boeing 777 was in radio communication with air traffic controllers (ATC) at the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk.

The last radio transmission made by the Boeing crew began at 1.19 and 56 seconds and lasted three seconds. By the time another four seconds had passed, the black box recordings stopped.

ATC's last radio transmission to the Air Malaysia flight began at 1.20pm precisely and ended at two seconds after 1.22pm. The crew did not respond to these transmissions.

The report said: "Damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft.

"The pattern of damage observed in the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.

"The fact that there were many pieces of aircraft structure distributed over a large area indicated that the aircraft broke up in the air."

Due to the on-going conflict in the area, Dutch investigators have not been able to examine the crash site. But Ukraine air accident investigators were able to take photographs of the wreckage during a number of short visits to the site. Satellite images have also aided the DSB.

Today's report said wreckage was scattered over an area approximately six miles by three miles. As well as aircraft parts, the wreckage included cargo and baggage.

The DSB said the main site of the wreckage was close to the town of Hrabove, about five miles from the last recorded position of the aircraft.

This site contained parts of the wings, both engines, the main landing gear and a portion of the fuselage. Aircraft parts distributed over the main site had been subjected to post-crash fire.

The vertical tail was found in a field to the south of Hrabove. It was still attached to a portion of the upper rear fuselage. Other aircraft parts were found nearby.

Large parts from around the cockpit and forward section of the plane were found closest to its last recorded position. A number of pieces of wreckage contained multiple holes and indentations and a section of the cockpit roof also "showed holes indicating penetration from outside".

The report said the distribution of the wreckage indicated that the forward parts of the aircraft broke up first. The centre and rear parts of the plane were significantly further east, indicating that these parts continued in a down and forward trajectory before breaking up.

Further reading:

Report warns of Syria missiles  

Thousands withdrawn from Malaysia Airlines MH370 passengers' bank accounts: Two arrested 

Malaysia Airlines: Dutch cyclist Maarten de Jonge cheats death twice after changing both MH17 and MH370 flights 

Australian family's double Malaysia Airlines tragedy - relatives lost on MH370 and killed on MH17 

Missing flight MH370: British sailor thinks she saw Malaysia Airlines plane 'burn' in the sky 

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: 11 people with alleged links to al-Qa'ida arrested on suspicion of involvement in jet's disappearance 

Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Plane was 'thrown around like a fighter jet in attempt to dodge radar' 

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