Three Sentenced To Life for Downing Malaysian Flight MH17

The Boeing 777 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 on board.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. [Photo courtesy of @MatevzNovak]

Two Russian men and one Ukranian man have been convicted by a Dutch court in absentia of murder and sentenced to life in prison for their role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, according to reports.

The crash killed all 298 people aboard the Boeing 777. 

The flight departed from Amsterdam on July 17, 2014, bound for Kuala Lumpur in southeast Asia. As the aircraft passed over eastern Ukraine, it was shot down by a Russian missile. At the time, there was fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. The aircraft wreckage came down in a farming community in Donetsk province.

The trial took place in Amsterdam because the majority of the victims were Dutch, Reuters reported. More than 200 of the victims' family members were in the courtroom when the sentence was read.

Reuters noted that Ukrainian officials welcomed the ruling, noting that it "will have implications for other court cases Kyiv has filed against Russia." 

Russian officials were critical of the ruling and stated there will be no extradition of its citizens. All three men are believed to be hiding in Russia.

The three men convicted are identified as Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader, and former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky. 

According to the court, the men were found to have helped transport the Russian military BUK missile system into Ukraine. It was noted they were not ones who launched the missile at the airliner.

A fourth former suspect, Russian Oleg Pulatov was acquitted on all charges.

"The families of victims wanted the truth, and they wanted justice to be done and those responsible to be punished, and that is what happened," Piet Ploeg, who heads a foundation representing victims, told Reuters. Ploeg lost his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew on Flight MH17.

The judgment included an award of 16 million euro in damages.

Dutch Safety Board Investigates

As previously reported in FLYING, in 2015 the Dutch Safety Board which was charged with investigating the mid-air loss of the Boeing, determined that the crash was caused by “detonation of a 9N314M-type warhead launched from the eastern part of Ukraine using a Buk missile system.”

The report explains that MH17 progressed normally and was at an altitude of 33,000 feet flying over the eastern part of Ukraine until 13:20 UTC, when the missile detonated on the left and above the cockpit. The impact caused the cockpit and business class section to separate, and the airplane disintegrated during its descent, leaving no survivors.

The heavily fragmented wreckage was scattered over six different locations. Investigators found that the front section was perforated by hundreds of high-energy objects—fragments that were similarly shaped were found in the bodies of the crew in the cockpit. Paint on the fragments found inside the wreckage also matched paint on the recovered missile parts.

According to Reuters, presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said there was ample evidence from eyewitness testimony and photographs which tracked the missile system's movements into and back out of Ukraine to Russia.

"There is no reasonable doubt" that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile system," Steenhuis said.

The investigation was multinational, as it was led by the Netherlands, with participation from officials in Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, and Belgium—all countries that also lost citizens aboard the airliner.

During the investigation it was revealed the commercial airliner was mistaken for a military target.

Russian officials called the ruling politically motivated and have denied any involvement or responsibility for MH17's downing. In 2014 Russian presence in Ukraine was also denied.

The Dutch and Australian governments, which hold Russia responsible, have started a proceeding against the Russian Federation at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and noted that more litigation is possible as they search for the crew that launched the missile.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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