Herald Sun


Shock film emerges

- CHARLES MI­RANDA Charles.mi­randa@news.com.au Aviation · Malaysia Airlines · Malaysia · Amsterdam · Kuala Lumpur · Boeing · Ukraine · Russia · Kharkiv · Donetsk · Russian Empire · Sukhoi Aviation Corporation · Donetsk Oblast · Donetsk · Soviet Union · Kuala Lumpur International Airport · Australia

IN the dis­tance, bil­lows of smoke can be seen ris­ing above the sparse wood­land and grass fields and the cam­era picks up the mourn­ful bel­lows of cat­tle in the dis­tance.

It could be a serene ru­ral scene any­where in the world — but in the fore­ground there is a sharper, dis­tinct crack­ling sound of fire.

The cam­era pans and on first glance it could be a road­side brush blaze sweep­ing across tall grass.

But then the cam­corder fo­cus is cleared and zooms in on a large trail of burn­ing wreck­age that ex­tends across the dirt road to the farm­house in the dis­tance.

The im­age is stark. It’s an air­craft but one larger than imag­ined by the cam­era­man and his band of fa­tigue-wear­ing armed com­rades who are stunned and pause to de­bate what it is they are look­ing at.

They then delve closer into the burn­ing wreck­age site and it be­comes patently clear.

It was the af­ter­noon of July 17, 2014, within two hours of 13.19pm — the last time any con­trol tower had con­tact with Malaysia Air­lines Flight MH17 en route from Am­s­ter­dam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 pas­sen­gers and crew on board, in­clud­ing 38 Aus­tralian cit­i­zens and res­i­dents. All on board per­ished. One year on, a multi­na­tional team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors is still try­ing to piece to­gether what hap­pened to the Boe­ing 777-200.

A months-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Her­ald Sun around the crash scene on the east Ukraine-Rus­sia bor­der, a for­ward base in Kharkiv in the north­east and with the rebel fight­ers in Donetsk and oth­ers close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion else­where, has un­cov­ered new ev­i­dence re­lated to the mo­ment the air­craft was ap­par­ently shot down.

The footage is raw, dis­tress­ing and graphic, but a cru­cial part of the timeline to es­tab­lish who knew what and when — as fam­i­lies of the de­ceased de­mand an­swers.

The video footage re­veals a state of con­fu­sion as the armed mili­tia unit from the Donetsk Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic —

rebels sup­ported by Rus­sia, which op­poses Ukraine’s Gov­ern­ment build­ing closer ties with the West — pulls up at the scene of the burn­ing wreck­age. “This is another plane, I think,” says one per­son in the back­ground of the 17-minute footage shot by one of the men in the party.

“It’s the fighter,” ob­serves another.

An uniden­ti­fied soldier steps into the scene and points. “There, part of en­gine.” “Yes, I think so … “Yes, it’s the Sukhoi.” The rebel unit had been dis­patched to the Hrabove area in the Donetsk Oblast re­gion of east Ukraine, 40km from the Rus­sian bor­der, to find the pilots from a downed Ukrainian air force Sukhoi SU-25 jet fighter shot down the day be­fore. That shoot­ing down of the fighter came a day af­ter a Ukrainian trans­port plane was shot down by a ground-to-air mis­sile.

At this stage of what had be­gun as a civil war, col­umns of ar­ma­ments and troops, wear­ing fa­tigues but with all iden­ti­fy­ing in­signia re­moved, were stream­ing across the bor­der from Rus­sia keen to as­sist the break­away East Ukraine province to break away from the West-backed Ukraine and re­join Rus­sia keen on re-es­tab­lish­ing a Soviet Union.

Those on the ground are still con­fused by the scene and point to money, back­packs and sheets of melted alu­minium scat­tered about the scene.

Yet de­spite the vol­ume of wreck­age, they can be heard on cam­era still be­liev­ing it to be a two-seat fighter jet as they fan out about the large wreck­age site to look for the pilots and/or their para­chutes which lo­cals had re­ported had ejected from the air­craft.

Two men off cam­era make a con­nec­tion. “Where is the Sukhoi? “There it is, it is the pas­sen­ger plane.”

Fur­ther on the cam­era walks past another two men. “Where is the Sukhoi then? “It’s con­fus­ing. No idea

where the Sukhoi is, it’s burn­ing here and there and de­bris ev­ery­where.”

The leader of the unit then takes a call from a Donetsk rebel base com­man­der who tells them another burn­ing wreck­age had been found.

“Hello, yes, we’re at the crash site. What? Is there another plane taken down there? Un­der­stood, keep the perime­ter, don’t let the civil­ians in. OK then, we’ll be there soon. It’s a civil­ian, it’s some civil­ian.”

Be­fore he moves to the next site, the unit com­man­der at the scene comes across bod­ies of peo­ple he ini­tially iden­ti­fies to his men as lots of Chi­nese peo­ple, many women he notes par­tic­u­larly.

He then or­ders them to re­trieve black­boxes, or­ange in colour he rightly in­structs his men, and any­thing else of value to their “in­ves­ti­ga­tion”.

The com­man­der then says they should stop film­ing

“I’m not film­ing faces, I never film faces,” he says, de­spite in ad­vert tent­lytl and regularly lift­ing the cam­era and do­ing so.

“Guys, I don’t like it ei­ther if it’s leaked on the in­ter­net. Are you film­ing here guys?” the com­man­der barks.

This is some mil­i­tary (ex­ple­tive) … Don’t film here guys.”

He then or­ders lo­cal farm­ers and mine work­ers con­verg­ing on the scene to be

kept away and roads to the scene blocked usingi th theiri own ve­hi­cles.hi l Sev­eral times he barks “get rid of the civil­ians”.

The black box recorders are found and put in the com­man­der’s car as his men rum­mage through the bags, os­ten­si­bly look­ing for “doc­u­ments” to con­firm the air­craft and flight.

They find the Kuala Lumpur In­ter­na­tional Air­port ID

for a stew­ardess then another. They then come across a small blood­stained back­pack with the bag­gage tag of an Aus­tralian vic­tim, whose name the Her­ald Sun will not re­veal. “Aus­tralia, Aus­tralia,” the com­man­der says read­ing the tag, be­fore shout­ing to some­one in the dis­tance to get rid of a Skoda some­one had parked nearby.

Some­one else tells a col­league to open the back­pack and they find some equip- ment. “Binoc­u­lars, they are bro­ken … use­less. Doc­u­ments … look in the bag … doc­u­ments …”

“From the doc­u­ments, what flight was it?”

The men rum­mage through the back­pack, toss­ing per­sonal ef­fects ev­ery­where but keep­ing any­thing that looks of value. Other bags are searched and ac­cord­ing to sources close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, piles of mo­bile phone and com­puter equip­ment were be­ing placed into large stor­age-like bags.

The mili­tia had also de­nied claims it went through the lug­gage and re­moved items but the video sug­gests oth­er­wise. There is com­plete dis­re­gard for the bod­ies about them and many men seem more con­cerned about the vol­ume of dead and colour­ful birds of par­adise that had been trans­ported on the jet.

The unit com­man­der, takes sev­eral phone calls and the scene be­comes clearer, and he then chats off-cam­era to a sub­or­di­nate.

“The other plane that fell down, they are af­ter them, the pilots,” he says.

“The sec­ond one?” his col­league asks.

“Yes, there’s two taken down. We need the sec­ond.”

“The sec­ond one is a civil­ian too?

“The fighter jet brought down this one, and our peo­ple brought down the fighter,” a third man re­sponds.

“They de­cided to do it this way, to look like we have brought down the plane.”

De­spite the crew bod­ies clearly es­tab­lish­ing it to be a pas­sen­ger flight, they gueril­las are con­vinced five parachutis­ts came from the plane and the two fighter pilots were else­where near other burn­ing wreck­age near another vil­lage.

This could have been another sec­tion of the air- craft with MH17 break­ing in three ma­jor parts, in­clud­ing the cock­pit and fuse­lage near the vil­lage of Grabovo.

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 ??  ?? The rebels go through the lug­gage from the wreck­age of MH17 in the video. Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin of Perth (bot­tom left) were among
the 38 Aus­tralian vic­tims.
The rebels go through the lug­gage from the wreck­age of MH17 in the video. Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin of Perth (bot­tom left) were among the 38 Aus­tralian vic­tims.

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