Dutch investigators say no sat images of MH17 crash exist, enquiry could last years

People talk near the remains of fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the village of Grabovo in Donetsk region, September 9, 2014. © Marko Djurica
The chief Dutch prosecutor investigating the downing of flight MH17, in Ukraine in July 2014, has reportedly told victims’ families that experts hope to gather evidence on the type of missile and spot it was fired from “by the second half of the year.”

The international judiciary team working on the MH17 crash case is currently investigating remains of the missile that shot down the passenger plane, Fred Westerbeke, the chief investigator with the Dutch National Prosecutors' Office, said in a letter to the victims’ relatives, RTL Nieuws reported

Westerbeke reportedly said there is no video footage of the missile launch, and that due to the cloud cover on the day of the disaster, there aren't any satellite images, either. But there is radar data, showing whether there had been other air traffic at the time of the disaster.

According to Westerbeke, Ukraine does not have any radar images. The US made their data available through the Netherland’s MIVD (Military Intelligence & Security Service), which the Dutch prosecutor will be able to use as evidence if necessary. Westerbeke alleged that Russia has not supplied the requested radar images.

Earlier this month, Oleg Storchevoy, the deputy head of the Federal Air Transport Agency, said the organization has been assisting with the international investigation into the crash of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, but the data it provided has largely been ignored by the Dutch authorities.

READ MORE: Official letter on MH17 investigation by top Russian aviation official Oleg Storchevoy

“We officially maintain that Russia provided the Dutch Safety Board with all available primary radar data tracing Flight MH17 as early as August 2014, which was right after the tragedy,” Storchevoy said, adding that Russia has stored all that data to this day, and is willing to provide it once again to the relevant authorities.

While the tragedy took place outside Russian airspace (where the airliner was not being directed by Russian air traffic controllers), Russia’s radar data became a “point of interest” because its radar control facilities were able to track MH17’s flight path, Storchevoy said. “Furthermore, it was later established that the Russian primary radar data were, in fact, the only ones available, since Ukrainian air traffic control services, for some unclear reasons, had not been running primary radar surveillance, despite the fact that there were no other means available for ensuring air safety over the war zone in eastern Ukraine.”

Westerbeke alleged in his letter there is a “large group of people" who "may be responsible" for the attack. Once their role is clear, and depending on where they are, a decision will be made on the form of prosecution, according to RTL Nieuws. The victims' relatives will be further informed in March. He has reportedly warned, however, that the investigation and prosecution could take a very long time, referring to the Lockerbie crash. The 1988 crash of Pam Am flight 103 en route from London to New York, which killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew, took three years to investigate.

In July, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would set up an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for shooting down flight MH17 over Ukraine. Setting up an international tribunal would be a "dangerous step" leading to a surge of confrontation in global affairs, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin had warned.

After Russia blocked the move, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine began exploring alternative options, including trials in international and national courts, Reuters reported. Another option could be a trial in national courts of one of the four countries that lost large numbers of citizens in the crash.