John Helmer‘s exhaustive reporting of the less well-reported aspects of the MH17 tragedy, here highlights the flimsy nature of the forensic evidence and the defence of the Novorossyans offered by the Australian Federal Police – an aspect that has so far passed by most of the media. Originally posted at Dances With Bears.
The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) reported yesterday [October 12] that its evidence for concluding that a single ground-to-air Buk missile caused the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was an explosive blast of sound on the cockpit voice recorder lasting 2.3 milliseconds; a spray pattern of damage to the cockpit area of the fuselage; three distinctively shaped metal fragments (lead image) found in the bodies of the cockpit crew; a chemical analysis of explosive residues missing 2 out of 3 warhead explosives; and a match of paint samples collected up to 4 months apart.
The fine arithmetic of this evidence has convinced the Dutch to pinpoint the source as a Buk missile type 9M38, with a warhead model 9N314M. The larger arithmetic of the area from which the DSB has calculated the missile was fired – 50 square kilometres of crash area; 320 square kilometres of launch area – has proved to be inconclusive for a judgement of who fired the missile, and thus who is responsible for the crash and for the deaths of the 298 crew and passengers on board.
That said, aviation lawyers close to the MH17 case now believe there is no evidence of a crime – a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a crime of terrorism — that would meet international prosecution standards. For what lawyers have done, or not done, to examine the case for evidence of a crime, or evidence of civil negligence, read this.
Just how circumstantial and inconclusive the newly reported Dutch results turn out to be was revealed two days before the release of the Dutch report, when the Australian Federal Police (AFP) released unusual criticism of Australian Government officials. According to the AFP, public Australian Government interpretations of the crash evidence and assignments of blame cannot be supported by the evidence the AFP’s officers had collected themselves at the crash scene in Ukraine, in the autopsy process in The Netherlands, and in the subsequent forensic testing of what was found in the bodies of the MH17 victims.
In the 279 pages of the DSB report, released yesterday, just 3 pages provide the autopsy evidence on which the conclusiveness of the fresh identification of the missile model and warhead type depends. The crucial autopsy evidence, according to the Dutch agency, comes from the bodies of the three cockpit crew – the Captain, the First Officer, and the Purser. They, the DSB has concluded, “sustained multiple fatal injuries associated with the impact of metal fragments moving at high velocity”. The DSB report says there were “hundreds of metal fragments” in the Captain’s body; “over 120 objects (mostly metal fragments)” in the First Officer’s body; and “more than 100 objects” in the Purser’s body.
This is new evidence. Earlier reporting of what Lailatul Masturah, sister of MH17 flight captain Wan Amran, said she saw of his body, and was told at the Hilversum Army base when his body was released to her, suggests nothing of the sort. Read her testimony here.
The DSB report now concludes there were no shrapnel wounds or metal fragment impacts in the “majority of the occupants of the cabin”. They died from decompression and related effects of the break-up of the aircraft, after the cockpit had been severed from the cabin fuselage. Although the DSB doesn’t say so, its report corroborates findings published in November and December of last year by the Victorian State Coroner Ian Gray and Australian pathologists working in The Netherlands. Read their testimony, before it was recently classified.
Eight pages of the DSB report – pages 88 to 95 — focus on the metal fragments. The number of these starts at “over 500 recovered from the wreckage of the aeroplane, the remains of the crew members and passengers.” Many, apparently most, of these fragments turned out to be “personal belongings, aeroplane parts or objects that originated from the ground after impact.” According to the DSB, “many were metal fragments that were suspected to be high-energy objects.” Of these just 72 were investigated further because they were “similar in size, mass and shape.” 43 of this 72 were “found to be made of unalloyed steel”. The term “shrapnel” may be a synonym for “unalloyed steel fragments”, but the word doesn’t appear at all in the DSB report. According to the DSB, “no unalloyed steel fragments were found in the remains of the passengers”.
Of the 43 steel fragments investigated thoroughly — all of them recovered from the bodies of the cockpit crew or in the wreckage of the cockpit — 20 were found on analysis to include layers of aluminium or glass. The DSB’s explanation is that the external explosion of a missile warhead had propelled these fragments through the cockpit windows and aluminium panels of the fuselage, fusing with the glass and aluminium before striking the three crew members in the cockpit at the time.
The DSB conclusion is that these fragments came from a missile warhead, but not conclusively from a Buk missile warhead type 9N314M. The evidence for this Buk warhead comes, the DSB reports, from 4 – repeat four – fragments. These, “although heavily deformed and damaged, had distinctive shapes; cubic and in the form of a bow-tie”. The DSB’s exact count is two cubic shapes, two bow-ties. One bow-tie was recovered from the cockpit wreckage; one from the body of a cockpit crew member. Both cubic fragments were found in the bodies of the crew members.
Because Buk shrapnel is understood to have such cubic and bow-tie shapes, there are just four fragments to substantiate it. If the autopsy evidence is regarded as the only source that could not have been contaminated on the ground, or in the interval between the crash and the forensic testing in The Netherlands, there are just three fragments which fit the Buk bill.
In addition, the DSB says it has examined chemical residues of the warhead explosive, and paint particles from the surface of missile parts reportedly recovered from the ground. Exactly where, when, and by whom the purported missile parts were found the DSB does not identify. In Section 2:12:2:8 of the report, the DSB says that “during the recovery of the wreckage, a number of parts that did not originate from the aeroplane and its content were found in the wreckage area.
The parts found appeared to be connected with a surface-to-air missile. The parts that were suspected to be related to a surface-to-air missile were transported to the Gilze-Rijen Air Force Base [in The Netherlands; also reported as the Hilversum Army Base] in the same way as the aeroplane wreckage was. On arrival the parts underwent the same examination as the pieces of aeroplane wreckage.”
By failing to identify the location of these parts, the finders, or the dates on which they were sent to Holland, the DSB does not rule out that this evidence may have been fabricated. At page 53 the DSB admits that “many pieces of the wreckage” were either not examined physically “until four months after the crash”, or not recovered for examination for up to nine months after the July 17, 2014, downing.
The final DSB conclusion on missile parts is:
the shape and form of the parts recovered is [sic] consistent with a 9M38 series surface-to-air missile.
This, according to international legal sources, is circumstantial, inferential, indirect – and for a courtroom, inadmissible.
The DSB acknowledges also that its chemical evidence of explosive residues and paint is unlikely to be admissible because it is likely to have been contaminated on the ground. A total of 126 samples were reportedly swabbed from parts of the plane wreckage. Just 30 of these tested positive for two types of explosive – RDX and TNT. A “few” are now reported to have shown traces of the explosive PETN. However, on the missile parts which the DSB claims to be proof of Buk, “traces of RDX was [sic] found. On the missile part [sic] TNT or PETN could not be identified.”
The significance of the missing explosive evidence is left unexplained. But the DSB report concedes that “the objects from which the swab samples were taken had been exposed to the elements for a long period of time.” Just how long from crash to recovery the Dutch don’t say. “The possibility of contamination during transport and by the fact that the wreckage lay in an area of armed conflict is a concern for the explosive residue analysis.” This Dutch concern is an understatement.
As for the paint matching, the DSB says it tested “missile parts found at the wreckage area” with “fragments recovered from the aeroplane”. It concludes :
the paint samples taken from missile parts could not be distinguished from those found on the foreign objects extracted from the aeroplane”. How and when the two sets of samples were found, and by whom, is left unsaid.
The inconclusiveness on the part of the Dutch officials has been clarified by officers of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) who were assigned to both the victim identification process and to the forensic operations of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of Dutch, Ukrainian, Malaysian, Belgian and Australian investigators. For more details of the Australian participation in the JIT, read this.
A Dutch spokesman for the JIT said just hours before the DSB released its report that no report on the criminal evidence is scheduled in the next four months; and it is “still too early for any final conclusion.”
On October 11 and 12 the AFP released direct interviews and a video clip in which officers who had worked at the crash scene in Ukraine and at the autopsies and forensic analysis in The Netherlands criticize the version of the crash publicly promoted by the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and the current Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. An AFP source confirmed yesterday that the material published this week by a Sydney newspaper has been authorized.
Four AFP officers were confirmed by the source as participating in the official information release:
- Detective Superintendent Andrew Donoghoe, who has headed the AFP team in The Netherlands for two tours over the fifteen months since the crash;
- Senior Sergeant Rod Anderson who is still serving in The Netherlands;
- Dr Simon Walsh, the AFP’s chief forensic scientist and head of the agency’s disaster victim identification (DVI) team;
- Dr Sarah Benson, who succeeded Walsh in The Netherlands.
Benson has a PhD in chemical criminalistics. Detective Sergeant John Giles has also been confirmed as participating “at the head of the Australian line” during the body identification and autopsy process.
In their presentation of what they saw, did, and have concluded, the AFP officers are now saying they have no evidence the Novorussians at the crash scene either claimed responsibility for the shoot-down; or acted improperly to withhold or manipulate the crash scene evidence; or stole the victims’ belongings.
The AFP is also expressing its “irritation” at public claims of the cause of the crash and the conduct of the Novorussians by the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Tony Abbott. In their presentation to the media, the Australian officers…
go out of their way to acknowledge and to defend the humanity of the Ukrainian rebels who were accused of bringing down the aircraft.
In an unprecedented declaration of its independence from the Australian Government, the AFP’s official version of the investigation of the MH17 crash and the ongoing investigation in Holland has appeared in two reports released this week by a local newspaper — the first on October 11; the second on October 12. No police, prosecutors, or forensic investigators from any of the other national teams working on the MH17 case in Ukraine and The Netherlands have said so much on the record.
The only Dutch pathologist to make a public reference to the evidence, Dr George Maat, was fired by the Dutch government for doing so. For Maat’s case, read this.
The AFP’s decision to go public this week contrasts with Victorian Coroner Gray, who has closed the evidence the AFP collected, apparently on advice from Australian government officials. Gray’s spokesman has announced, also this week:
..the current state of the investigation is such that [the court] has determined that the report is not for release.
For more on the Australian evidence Gray is trying to suppress, read this. Australian lawyers plan to challenge Gray, who also holds a judge’s rank, for violating the law in concealing the MH17 evidence gathered from the bodies of the Australian victims.
Anderson now says:
The Ukrainians were not uncaring people. It was as much a tragedy for them as for the victims. There was a lot of talk of disrespect for the dead because of the fighting – that was not the case…They were searching within 20 minutes of the crash and recovering remains – that’s a good response, a good job … it was done fairly well … with the level of expertise and equipment that they had, the locals did the best they could do.
According to Donoghoe, “the victims were treated with respect and dignity in difficult circumstances.” Walsh has added:
…there was no evidence to suggest otherwise.
According to Walsh’s version of the behaviour of the Novorussian troops at the crash scene,
…what we have established since is that so many victims were successfully identified on the basis of what [the Ukrainians] had collected, and subsequent searching did not reveal huge amounts of human remains that they had missed. The original [Ukrainian] work was done to a high standard in terms of the victims’ human remains being treated with respect and dignity.
Walsh dismisses media reports of looting.
There were cases of the jewellery being present. I can’t say if the presence was high or low; and there were cases of no jewellery, but not sufficient to substantiate claims of a high or extraordinary amount of looting.
Asked if the Novorussians had behaved as humanely as the victims’ families would have expected, Walsh said:
From what I’ve observed, that’s a fair assessment.