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Berlin did not warn of Ukraine flight dangers

April 27, 2015

Berlin knew the danger of flying over Ukraine before flight MH17 was downed, but didn't alert German airlines. The allegation is part of a joint investigation by three media outlets.

MH17 Flugzeugabsturz Absturzstelle Ukraine 18.7.2014
Image: imago/Itar-Tass

The German government knew of the danger for airliners flying over Ukraine two days before MH17 was shot down, German media reported Monday, citing secret diplomatic cables from the country's foreign office.

A team of journalists from regional public broadcasters WDR, NDR and daily newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (SZ) has been investigating the case of MH17, which went down over separatist-held eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.

Two days before the catastrophe, Germany's Foreign Office wrote that the situation in that area was "very worrying" because the previous day, July 14, a Ukrainian Antonov military cargo plane had been shot down from a height of more than 6,000 meters (19,600 feet). This lent the security situation in Ukraine's airspace "a new quality," the report said. The shooting down of a plane at this height was a clear signal to military experts that an aircraft flying at a much higher altitude could also be reached, meaning there was a danger to passenger planes.

According to WDR, NDR and SZ, this information was passed on several times by Germany's intelligence services to the government - labeled with the government code "VS," a lower-level secrecy classification only allowing access to verified individuals with a reason to know the information. It was not shared with the country's airlines before the disaster.

Lufthansa also flew over region

"The fact is, we had no information from the authorities before July 17," German national carrier Lufthansa told the media outlets. A "Lufthansa insider" quoted by the outlets added that if the airline had received such a warning from the government, it would surely have not flown over eastern Ukraine. The outlets reported that it was pure chance that a Lufthansa plane was not the one shot down. On the day of the tragedy alone, Lufthansa flew three times over eastern Ukraine - once only 20 minutes ahead of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet. Other German airlines had already been avoiding the area as a precaution.

While according to the SZ, the Foreign Office has kept silent on the question of responsibility, the Federal Transport Ministry responded "As far as a possible worsening of the security situation for civil flights over Ukraine, the government had no information before the crash of flight MH17."

The Boeing 777 was flying at about 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) when, according to preliminary reports, it was likely struck by a large number of "high energy objects" and broke up in mid-air.

Official investigations into what caused the plane's demise are continuing. Kyiv and the West have accused Russia of supplying the pro-Moscow separatists with a surface-to-air missile launcher. Russian media have instead suggested a Ukrainian air force fighter shot the plane down.

Talks in Kyiv

The revelations come as top EU officials are due to begin two days of high-level talks in Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due to meet European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker later on Monday. They are expected to discuss the country's economic and political reforms, financial situation and the ongoing conflict in the east.

se/msh (dpa, AFP)

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