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Dutch report finds MH17 likely shot down by 'high-speed objects'

Investigators in the Netherlands have released a preliminary report on the MH17 airliner crash in eastern Ukraine. The findings say the airliner was pierced by "high-speed objects," and cockpit activity "ended abruptly."

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was likely hit "by a large number of high-energy objects," air crash investigators said on Tuesday. Furthermore, the distribution of the wreckage over a large area indicated that the aircraft broke up in the air, according to the report published on the website of the Dutch Safety Board (OVV).

The Malaysia Airlines flight went down over war-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17 while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 were killed, including 193 Dutch citizens.

The West has accused Moscow-backed separatist fighters of shooting down the airliner with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. The Russian government has blamed the Ukrainian military.

The OVV report does not assign blame for the incident.

At the time of the incident, the Malaysia Airlines plane was flying at approximately 33,000 feet (10,000 meters), above the restricted airspace zone, according to investigators. The cockpit voice recorder "ended abruptly" and no distress signal was sent.

"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 report said.

The report "leads to the strong suspicion that a surface-to-air missile brought MH17 down, but further investigative work is needed before we can be certain," said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

There was no evidence the crash was the result of a technical problem or pilot error.

Investigation difficulties

Dutch investigators have not been able to access the crash site, near the city of Torez, because of ongoing fighting in the area. They instead have had to rely on information about the scene of the incident from Ukrainian crash specialists.

Families have expressed their frustrations with the slow pace of the investigation.

"I want to know who killed my children" Samira Calehr, a Dutch woman who lost two sons in the crash, told the Associated Press. "I think that if this had happened to citizens of the United States, they would make a faster move than here."

Forensic experts were sent to the site not long after the crash, but their investigation was suspended due to the conflict. So far,193 of the victims have been identified.

The report's preliminary findings are based on information from the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, otherwise known as the black box. It also includes satellite and radar information, pictures and video taken at the scene and data provided by Ukrainian air traffic control.

The plane's black box was analyzed by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch in Farnborough, Britain.

Examination of "photographs from the wreckage indicated that the material around the holes was deformed in a manner consistent with being punctured by high-energy objects."

Further investigation

The OVV said a full report is expected in mid-2015.

The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed since fighting began in Ukraine in April, if the MH17 victims are included.

A tentative ceasefire between government forces and the pro-Russian separatists took effect on Friday.

MH17 is the second Malaysian Airlines plane to be lost this year. Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared from radar in March. It is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia, killing all 239 people on board.

dr,bw / sb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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