MH17 might have been shot down from air – chief Dutch investigator

George and Angela Dyczynski sit on a piece of wreckage of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, during their visit to the crash site near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), in Donetsk region July 26, 2014. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)
The chief Dutch prosecutor investigating the MH17 downing in eastern Ukraine does not exclude the possibility that the aircraft might have been shot down from air, Der Spiegel reported. Intelligence to support this was presented by Moscow in July.

The chief investigator with the Dutch National Prosecutors' Office Fred Westerbeke said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published on Monday that his team is open to the theory that another plane shot down the Malaysian airliner.

Following the downing of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight in July that killed almost 300 people, Russia’s Defense Ministry released military monitoring data, which showed a Kiev military jet tracking the MH17 plane shortly before the crash. No explanation was given by Kiev as to why the military plane was flying so close to a passenger aircraft. Neither Ukraine, nor Western states have officially accepted such a possibility.

Westerbeke said that the Dutch investigators are preparing an official request for Moscow’s assistance since Russia is not part of the international investigation team. Westerbeke added that the investigators will specifically ask for the radar data suggesting that a Kiev military jet was flying near the passenger plane right before the catastrophe.

"Going by the intelligence available, it is my opinion that a shooting down by a surface to air missile remains the most likely scenario. But we are not closing our eyes to the possibility that things might have happened differently,” he elaborated.

A picture taken on October 15, 2014 shows the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the village of Rassipnoe. The flight MH17 was shoot down on July 17, 2014 with 298 people on board. (AFP Photo)

The international probe led by the Dutch - as nearly two-thirds of the victims were from the Netherlands - has not yet established how the crash happened. A preliminary report issued in September said only that the plane crashed as a result of structural damage from outside.

READ MORE: MH17 broke up in mid-air due to external damage - Dutch preliminary report

Meanwhile, a report issued by the Dutch Safety Board on air crashes, listed several passenger jets in flight MH17's vicinity, but no military aircraft nearby.

In regard to this report Westerbeke said that the statement was based on information that was available at the time suggesting Russia could have more information on the issue.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Su-25 fighter detected in close approach to MH17 before crash - Moscow

Though the West has accused Eastern Ukrainian militia forces of shooting down the plane, it has provided only circumstantial evidence in support of such claims. Moscow has urged the US to release satellite images that prove its claims.

“This may be a coincidence, but the US satellite flew over Ukraine at exactly the same time when the Malaysian airliner crashed,” a Russian Defense ministry spokesman said in a July statement.

Nadezhda, a 76 year-old woman, walks on October 15, 2014 among the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the village of Rassipnoe. (AFP Photo)

In his interview to the German media, Westerbeke also called on the US to release proof that supports its claims.

“We remain in contact with the United States in order to receive satellite photos,” he said.

READ MORE: 10 more questions Russian military pose to Ukraine, US over MH17 crash

German’s foreign intelligence agency reportedly also believes that local militia shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, according to Der Spiegel. The media report claimed the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) president Gerhard Schindler provided “ample evidence to back up his case, including satellite images and diverse photo evidence,” to the Bundestag in early October.

However, the Dutch prosecutor stated that he is “not aware of the specific images in question”.

“The problem is that there are many different satellite images. Some can be found on the Internet, whereas others originate from foreign intelligence services.”

The Kiev government and Eastern Ukraine rebels have accused each other of shooting down the plane. Kiev released what it calls an intercepted conversation between rebel fighters in which they admit to downing a plane.

A picture taken on October 15, 2014 shows candles and plush toys at the site of the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the village of Rassipnoe. (AFP Photo)

The Dutch prosecutor stated that “we will need evidence and more than a recorded phone call from the Internet or photos from the crash site. That's why we are considering several scenarios and not just one.”

The Dutch investigators have come under criticism especially from the relatives of the victims, who blame the probe for slow progress.

Westerbeke elaborated that it will take a long time to establish what really happened adding “we certainly need the whole of next year for work”.

“It’s not easy, but we can do it."

Westerbeke concluded that in the Netherlands 10 prosecutors are investigating the incident, as well as forensic experts and 80 policemen. While the Dutch also regularly hold meetings with colleagues from Malaysia, Australia and Ukraine.