Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down by Russian-controlled forces on 17 July 2014, while flying over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed. Contact with the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, was lost when it was about 50 km (31 mi) from the Ukraine–Russia border, and wreckage from the aircraft fell near Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 40 km (25 mi) from the border. The shoot-down occurred during the war in Donbas over territory controlled by Russian separatist forces.
The responsibility for investigation was delegated to the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) and the Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT), who in 2016 reported that the airliner had been downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. The JIT found that the Buk originated from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Federation and had been transported from Russia on the day of the crash, fired from a field in a rebel-controlled area and the launch system returned to Russia afterwards.
The findings by the DSB and JIT were consistent with the earlier claims by American and German intelligence sources and claims by the Ukrainian government. On the basis of the JIT’s conclusions, the governments of the Netherlands and Australia held Russia responsible for the deployment of the Buk installation and began pursuing legal remedies in May 2018. The Russian government denied involvement in the shooting down of the airplane, and its account of how the aircraft was shot down has varied over time. Coverage in Russian media has also differed from that in other countries.
On 17 November 2022, following a trial in absentia in the Netherlands, two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist were found guilty of murdering all 298 people on board flight MH17. The Dutch court also ruled that Russia was in control of the separatist forces fighting in eastern Ukraine at the time.
The incident is the deadliest airliner shoot-down incident to date. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. By 19 July, the airline had determined the nationalities of all 298 passengers and crew. The crew were all Malaysian, while over two-thirds (68%) of the passengers were Dutch. Most of the other passengers were Malaysians and Australians; the remainder were citizens of seven other countries. At least twenty family groups were on the aircraft and eighty passengers were under the age of 18. The flight crew were captains Wan Amran Wan Hussin (49) and Eugene Choo Jin Leong (44), and first officers Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi (29) and Muhamad Firdaus Abdul Rahim (26).
The armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine led some airlines to avoid eastern Ukrainian airspace in early March 2014 due to safety concerns. In the months prior to 17 July, reports circulated in the media on the presence of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, in the hands of the rebels that were fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.
At 16:20:03 local time (13:20:03 UTC), a Buk ground-to-air missile, which had been launched from an area southeast of the aircraft, detonated outside the airplane, just above and to the left of the cockpit. The blast and fragments of the missile severely damaged the cockpit and instantly killed three crew members in it. Evidence on the left engine intake ring and left wing tip suggests that the left wing and left engine had also picked up some shrapnel from the missile. An explosive decompression occurred, tearing the forward section of the aircraft into pieces, causing the middle and rear sections to tear into three sections and depressurizing the cabin.
The explosive decompression could have incapacitated most occupants of the aircraft before the crash, though investigators never ruled out the possibility that some were still conscious when the aircraft impacted the ground. Some occupants might have suffered serious injuries that contributed to their deaths before the crash. The aircraft fell rapidly and continued disintegrating before impacting the ground.
The mid-air disintegration had caused the seats, pieces of interior wall and floor, overhead compartments, and other interior structures of the aircraft to fall out of the plane. Some bodies, personal belongings, and other light objects had also fallen out of the plane. As the result of the disintegration, the debris of the plane landed in six different areas.
On 9 September 2014, the preliminary report was released by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB). This preliminary report concluded that there was no evidence of any technical or operational failure in the aircraft or from the crew prior to the ending of the CVR and FDR recordings at 13.20:03 hrs (UTC). The report also said that “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”. According to the investigators, this damage probably led to a loss of structural integrity that caused an in-flight break-up first of the forward parts of the aircraft and then of the remainder with an expansive geographic spread of the aircraft’s pieces.
The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) issued its final report on the crash on 13 October 2015. The report concluded that the crash was caused by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile with a 9N314M warhead. The warhead detonated outside and above the left-hand side of the cockpit. Fragments from the exploding warhead killed the three people in the cockpit and caused structural damage to the airliner leading to an in-flight break-up resulting in a wreckage area of 50 square kilometres (19 sq mi) and loss of the lives of all 298 occupants.
On 25 May 2018 the governments of the Netherlands and Australia issued a joint statement in which they laid responsibility on Russia “for its part” in the crash. The Netherlands and Australian foreign ministers stated that they would hold Russia legally responsible for shooting the airliner down. Netherlands Foreign Minister Stef Blok stated that “the government is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable,” and, “The Netherlands and Australia today asked Russia to enter into talks aimed at finding a solution that would do justice to the tremendous suffering and damage caused by the downing of MH17.