Did MH17 pilot divert INTO the danger zone?

Aviation expert claims captain made last-minute change of course over Ukraine because he ‘felt uncomfortable’
By Simon Tomlinson and Michael Seamark and Louise Eccles and Will Stewart and Ted Thornhill
Daily Mail | 18 July 2014

Russian military expert claims pilot radioed his concerns about the route before diverting over rebel-held territory

Russian media explores theory that Ukrainian armed forces shot down Boeing 777 after mistaking it for Putin’s jet

Malaysia Airlines filed flight plan requesting 35,000 feet through airspace but was told to fly at 33,000

Kremlin leader was flying back to Moscow from Brazilian World Cup at around same time passenger plane crashed

Russian aviation sources said the routes of the two planes ‘crossed at the same point and on the same altitude’

Ukrainian official accuses Putin of smuggling missile launcher back into Russia to cover up Kremlin involvement

Malaysian transport minister said MH17 was flying on approved route and pilot given no last-minute instructions

Putin calls for a ceasefire by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces to allow for negotiations

Confusion over the two black boxes: Rebel says none found, another said it has eight, Ukraine says it has both

Ukrainian officials issue plea for respect as it emerges looters are raiding the possessions of dead passengers

Is this proof that MH17 change course into a war zone? A route map compiled by Twitter user Vagelis Karmiros using data from flight-tracking website Flightaware claims to show how the doomed Malaysia Airlines plane took a different flightpath to the ones taken by the previous ten MH17 flights

The pilot of MH17 radioed that he ‘felt uncomfortable’ about the route he was flying while over Ukraine and fatally altered his course to hostile territory, according to an expert.

Dr Igor Sutyagin, Research Fellow in Russian Studies from the Royal United Services Institute, believes that MH17 was shot down by rebels based in the 3rd District of Torez, in eastern Ukraine, after mistaking his plane for a government military transport aircraft.

He told MailOnline that information had been leaked from a source he was unwilling to name that the pilot of MH17 ‘felt bad’ about his course over Ukrainian airspace, so changed direction.

Little did he know, according to Dr Sutyagin, that his plane would then be mistaken by rebels who brought it down using a ground-to-air Buk missile system. Malaysia Airlines today denied that the plane was told to alter its course.

His comments come as Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces to allow for negotiations.

A top separatist leader in east Ukraine has ruled out a truce with government forces but pledged to allow investigators to access the crash site.

‘There is no question of a ceasefire but we will let experts access the site of the catastrophe,’ Alexander Borodai, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, told journalists.

Dr Sutyagin’s theory appears to be supported by a route map which shows the passenger plane travelling on a different course to the ones taken by the previous ten MH17 flights.

Twitter user Vagelis Karmiros collated the information from Flightaware, the largest flight tracking website in the world.

Dr Sutyagin said: ‘There is a Ukrainian mechanised brigade blocked by separatists near the Russian border.

‘It’s blocked on three sides by separatists and behind the brigade is the Russian border, so they can’t get out. The Ukrainians try to resupply them from the air by transport aircraft.

‘Now, the pilot of MH17 said that he "felt bad" and wanted to change course south to get out of the danger zone. But several kilometers to the south is a Ukrainian Army heavy transport plane, an IL76, or Candid, which has the same echo as a 777 on a radar screen.

‘The two planes came close. They tried to shoot down the transport delivering supplies to the brigade. They believed that they had been firing at a military plane, but they mistakenly shoot down a civilian airliner.’

His comments came as Malaysia Airlines said it filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 feet through Ukraine airspace but was instructed by Ukraine air traffic control to fly at 33,000. It would still have been in range of the missile were it flying at the higher altitude, however.

Rescue workers, police and even coal miners are today combing the site where a Malaysian Airlines jet crashed after being shot from the sky by a surface-to-air missile, scattering wreckage and bodies across the Ukrainian countryside.

Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people on board, while the Russian media today blamed everyone but pro-Moscow rebels for the Malaysia Airlines horror.

One theory explored by TV and newspapers was that the Ukrainian armed forces may have shot the Boeing out of the sky after mistaking it for Vladimir Putin’s official Ilyushin jet.

The Kremlin leader was flying back to Moscow from Brazil at around the same time that the Boeing 777 was downed, stated TV and newspaper reports.

Evidence for the theory seems scant, but an anonymous source in Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transportation was quoted saying that there was a crossover flight path between the doomed Malaysian aircraft and Russian plane ‘number one’ used by Putin.

A source at the agency was quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper as saying: ‘Vladimir Putin’s plane could have been a target for a Ukrainian missile.’

NTV cited a source from the same body as saying: ‘I can say that the routes of plane Number One and the Malaysian Boeing crossed at the same point and on the same altitude.

‘It was near Warsaw at altitude 10,100 metres, echelon 330. The plane Number One was at that point at 16.21 Moscow time, the Malaysian plane was there at 15.44 Moscow time.’

The source also said that the ‘plane’ contours are similar in principle, the real sizes are also similar, and ‘as for their liveries then at the distance they are almost identical’.

Putin’s equivalent of Air Force One is a specially modified Ilyushin, the Il-96 300. It is a four-engine  long distance aircraft, with a length of 55 metres, and a wingspan of 60 metres.

The Boeing 777-200 is 63 metres long, and its wingspan 61 metres. 

Asked last night on the route of Putin’s plane, agency head Alexander Neradko said: ‘We never comment on the routes and other details of the flights of the president of Russia.’

Earlier, Ukrainian government official Anton Gerashchenko accused Mr Putin of ‘a desperate attempt to hide the consequences of his deeds’ by permitting the smuggling of the Buk rocket launcher – suspected of being used to shoot down the Boeing – across the frontier into Russia.

An effort during the night was made ‘to hide the Buk rocket complex on Russian territory’, he alleged.

He did not say if it was known whether or not it had moved into Russia.

‘It is most likely that the machinery which fired the missiles at Malaysian aircraft will be destroyed and the people who committed the act of terror will be annihilated,’ warned Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Interior Ministry in Kiev.

‘Several hours ago, Putin made a statement in regard the catastrophic crash of the Malaysian Boeing in which he blamed it all on Ukrainian side. What else is there to be done for an international terrorist? Only lie.’

Meanwhile, Pro-Kremlin Izvestia cited separatists claiming the shooting out of the sky was ‘a planned provocation by Kiev’.

‘Judge for yourself, who could have done it? The rebels don’t have weapons that you could use to shoot down a plane at such a height, but Kiev does,’ one local leader told the paper.

Tabloid Tvoi Den splashed a full-page cover photograph of the crash scene with a line reading: ‘Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by Ukrainian Buk Missile,’ an anti-aircraft system.

Rebel official Sergei Kavtaradze was quoted saying: ‘According to our information, this plane was shot down by Ukrainian armed forces.’

Other media claimed it could have been a Ukrainian plot to give the Americans an excuse to deploy NATO on the ground in the eastern European country.

But a Ukrainian military expert, Igor Levchenko, told Kommersant business daily that although Kiev did have several Buks in the conflict zone, they ‘definitely would not be used against such a target as a passenger liner.’


An expert believes that MH17 was downed by a missile fired from rebel-held Torez in eastern Ukraine – and a BUK anti-aircraft launcher has been pictured rumbling into the town just two hours before the crash, leading to speculation that it was this piece of equipment that was used to bring about the tragedy.

On Friday a missile launcher with two rockets missing was then filmed by Ukrainian intelligence services being smuggled on the back of a truck to Russia.

Anton Gerashchenko, from Ukraine’s interior ministry, said of the missing missiles that ‘it’s not hard to guess why’.

Suspicious: Ukrainian spies reportedly filmed the launcher used in the attack being smuggled to Russia – with two missiles missing

A view of what is believed to be a BUK surface-to-air missile battery being driven along a path on July 17 in Torez, Ukraine

Launch site? The BUK missile system photographed in Torez hours before MH17 was downed

‘It was exactly these missiles which brought death to almost 300 innocent passengers of the ill-fated Malaysian Boeing,’ he said, according to the Telegraph.

He continued: ‘International terrorist Igor Strelkov, aka Girkin, last night visited Snizhne to settle the situation with the downed Malaysian Boeing.

‘In the night the Buk system, from which the missile was launched, was removed to Russia, where it is likely to be destroyed.’

He claimed that the ‘direct performers of the terrorist attack’ are also likely to have been killed to avoid any witnesses.

The rebels ‘happily announced that they had downed the Ukrainian AN-26’ when in fact they had shot the Boeing, he said.

Dr Igor Sutyagin, Research Fellow in Russian Studies from the Royal United Services Institute, believes that MH17 was shot down by rebels based in the 3rd District of Torez.

A map showing the distance between the launch site and the MH17 crash site

Dr Sutyagin said the evidence that Russian separatists were responsible was very strong – and that there’s even a suggestion the BUK missile launcher was being manned by soldiers from Russia.

He said: ‘These separatists boasted on Twitter about capturing an BUK SA11 missile launcher [capable of downing high-flying airliners] on June 29, and several hours before the downing of the plane locals in Torez reported seeing BUK missile launchers and separatist flags around the city.

‘Later, there was lots of video posted of the plane falling down and rebels saying that “it was not pointless moving it [the BUK] there”.’

Dr Sutyagin then underscored the emerging Russian link to the tragedy.

He said: ‘The military leader of the Donetsk Republic, Igor Strelkov, real name Girkin, a Muscovite, a Russian citizen, posts a video of the intercept.’

This video was taken down once it was discovered that the downed plane was civilian.

The expert implicated Russia further, revealing that the former commander of Russian Air Force Special Operations Command, a Colonel-General, stated recently in an interview that the separatists did not have the expertise to operate the BUK launchers, that only Russian personnel could do so.

It’s also suspicious, Dr Sutyagin said, that Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported the crash at 16.13 Moscow time, several minutes before the crash actually happened – at 16.20.

‘The plane is safely in the sky, and RIA Novosti publishes information that it has been shot down,’ he said.

Turning some of the blame towards the aviation industry, the same paper cited aviation sources saying it was ‘reckless’ to allow passenger flights over the region.

Government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said: ‘It remains unclear how a Boeing 777 came to be above a conflict zone and why air traffic controllers didn’t prevent a potentially dangerous situation.

Malaysia’s transport minister today insisted there were no last-minute instructions to the pilots of MH17 before it took off.

Liow Tiong Lai said the Boeing 777 was flying on an internationally-approved route which other airlines had been using ‘in the hours before the incident’.

He said: ‘Our sympathies are with those affected by this tragedy. There were 298 passengers and crew. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families at this incredibly difficult time for them.’

Mr Lai reiterated that the plane had ‘a clean bill of health’ and all its systems were functioning normally.

The route taken over Ukraine was one approved by the International Civil Aviation Authority and by the International Air Transport Association.

He went on: ‘There were no last-minute instructions given to the pilots to change the route. In the hours before the incident, a number of airlines used this route.’

Mr Lai said that of the 41 passengers whose nationalities were initially unknown, 21 had now been identified.

Listing the nationalities, he confirmed that nine UK passengers were among those lost.

He added that the full passenger manifesto would be released once all next of kin had been informed.

Mr Lai called for the crash site to be preserved, adding that Malaysia was sending a dozens-strong team to Ukraine, which would include 15 medical staff.
Malaysia Airlines is also sending 40 staff to Amsterdam to support families there.

Speaking at a media conference in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Lai said Ukraine would start the investigation into the crash and he supported a call for an international investigation.

The Duke of Cambridge spoke today of his ‘deep sadness’ over the Ukraine plane disaster.

Speaking at an event at Australia House in London to remember a British explorer, William said words ‘cannot do justice to our sense of loss’.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight  MH17 in Ukraine was ‘an absolutely appalling, shocking, horrific incident’ and said his thoughts were with the families of those killed.

Mr Cameron said: ‘If, as seems possible, this was brought down, then those responsible must be held to account and we must lose no time in doing that.’

Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners spread out Friday across the sunflower fields and villages of eastern Ukraine, searching the wreckage of a jetliner shot down as it flew miles above the country’s battlefield.

By midday, 181 bodies had been located, according to emergency workers in contact with officials in Kiev.

Malaysia Airlines said the passengers included 189 Dutch, 29 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one person each from Canada and New Zealand.

Still Nataliya Bystro, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s emergency services, said rebel militiamen were interfering with the recovery operation.

It came as the UN Security Council has called for ‘a full, thorough and independent international investigation’ after approving a statement expressing ‘deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and governments of all those killed in the crash’.

Security Council members stood in a moment of silent tribute to the 298 victims at the start of an emergency council meeting.

The council called for an investigation ‘in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines and for appropriate accountability’.

It stressed the need for ‘immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident’.

The crash site is spread out between two villages in eastern Ukraine with pro-Russia separatists apparently controlling access in and out.

Confusion surrounds the fate of the plane’s flight recorders after conflicting reports over whether they had been found.

An assistant to the insurgency’s military commander, Igor Girkin, said earlier that eight out of the plane’s 12 black boxes had been located and that he was considering whether to give international crash investigators access to the crash site.

Since planes usually have two black boxes – one for recording flight data and the other for recording cockpit voices – it was not clear what the number 12 referred to.

But another separatist leader, Aleksandr Borodai, said later: ‘No black boxes have been found. We hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened.’

Earlier, the separatists claimed that one of the black boxes had been sent to Moscow.

Meanwhile, Kostyantyn Batozsky, adviser to the Donetsk regional governor, claimed the voice and data recording devices by the Ukrainian Emergency Services Ministry after workers were granted access to the crash site by rebels, it was reported by The New York Times.

But Mr Batozsky said he did not know the current location of the devices or who had them.

Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline’s red, white and blue markings lay strewn over a field.

The cockpit and one of the turbines lay more than half a mile (1km) apart and residents said the tail landed about six miles (10km) away, indicating that the aircraft probably broke up before hitting the ground.


Bodies and body parts strewn across the field outside the village of Rozsypne about 2.5 miles (4km) away from the crash site.

Shocking new accounts of the carnage emerged today.

‘The plane broke up in the air and the parts and human bodies are lying within a three-kilometre area,’ said a post by Vsevolod Petrovsky after visiting the scene.

‘One body broke a hole in the thin roof of a summer terrace in a private house. I got out of the car and immediately saw the naked body of a woman, covered by some leaves.

‘There were many bodies without clothes around. Probably, their clothing was torn away after the loss of pressurisation. Horrible.

‘I go further and see a hill made of the cockpit parts. The area is lit. The pilot’s body is in this seat, with seat belt fastened, he is dressed in his clothes.

‘Among the plane parts there were many parcels. Letters tied with a rope, books, old vinyl records, somebody’s shoes. Children’s caps with the Dutch national flag colours. Amazingly, almost all of these things are not destroyed.

‘There was no fire in this part of the plane. The fire was in the back part which is lying not far from Grabovo village.’

A local farmer said: ‘I was herding my cows and heard a buzzing noise. I lay on the ground and thinking only that it would not hit me and my cows.

‘Then I looked and saw that something turns sharply and two big wings were flying. Bang. And something explodes. It came from eastern side, from the side of Sokholikha mountain.’

American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down but are still working on who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border, a U.S. official said.

Malaysia’s prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

More than half of the passengers on board – 154 – were Dutch citizens, with 43 from Malaysia, including the 15 crew members.

Another 27 were Australians, 12 from Indonesia, and nine Britons. The victims included three infants.

Earlier it was feared that 23 Americans had perished based on a Reuters report, but there has been no confirmation of any U.S. deaths since then from the State Department.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it an ‘act of terrorism’ and demanded an international investigation. He insisted his forces did not shoot down the plane.

U.S. Senator John McCain said there ‘would be hell to pay’ if the plane was shot down by the Russian military or separatists.

Earlier this week, the rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military planes.

In Kuala Lumpur, several relatives of those on board the jet gathered at the international airport.

A distraught Akmar Mohamad Noor, 67, said her older sister was coming to visit the family for the first time in five years.

‘She called me just before she boarded the plane and said, "See you soon",’ she said.

Counsellors were meeting with a few family members in the airport viewing gallery, sealed off from a horde of journalists. One woman emerged in tears and was escorted out of the airport by a security officer without saying anything.

‘This is just too much,’ said Cindy Tan, who was waiting at the airport for a friend on another flight.

‘I don’t know really why this happened to a MAS (Malaysia Airlines) plane again.’

Ukraine’s security services produced what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible.

In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane.

In the second, two rebel fighters – one of them at the crash scene – say the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 15 miles (25km) north of the site.


A Singapore Airlines passenger plane was flying just 15 miles away from flight MH17 when it was shot out of the sky over Ukraine.

Data from Flightradar24.com reveals the Copenhagen to Singapore flight was in airspace above the dangerous Donetsk region just two minutes before a surface-to-air missile hit the Malaysia Airlines plane on Thursday.

Figures also reveal 55 planes – including six flights from London’s Heathrow Airport – flew over the war zone on the same day the tragedy happened.

The flights were still operating in the conflict zone despite warnings from as far back as April from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) about potential risks to commercial planes.

Danger zone: Flightradar24.com data shows the closest plane in the air to MH17 just two minutes before it was shot out of the sky over Ukraine was a Singapore Airlines flight

Neither recording could be independently verified.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Sergey Kavtaradze, a special representative of the Donetsk People’s Republic leader, as denying that the intercepted phone conversations were genuine.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the crash a ‘terrible tragedy’ and spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Mr Poroshenko. Britain called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine.

Later, Mr Putin said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, but he did not address the question of who might have shot it down and did not accuse Ukraine of doing so.

‘This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine,’ he said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early today.

‘And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.’

At the United Nations, Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the AP that Russia gave the separatists a sophisticated missile system and thus Moscow bears responsibility, along with the rebels.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament today that authorities owe it to the families of the dead to find out exactly what happened and who was responsible.

‘As things stand, this looks less like an accident than a crime. And if so, the perpetrators must be brought to justice,’ he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was ‘horrified’ by the crash, and the United States was prepared to help with an international investigation.

Ukraine’s crisis began after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office in February by a protest movement among citizens angry about endemic corruption and seeking closer ties with the European Union.

Russia later annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, and pro-Russians in the country’s eastern regions began occupying government buildings and pressing for independence. Moscow denies Western charges that it is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest.

Kenneth Quinn, of the Flight Safety Foundation, said an international coalition of countries should lead the investigation.

Safety experts say they are concerned that, because the plane crashed in area of Ukraine that is in dispute, political considerations could affect the investigation.

The RIA-Novosti agency quoted rebel leader Alexander Borodai as saying that talks were under way with Ukrainian authorities on calling a short truce for humanitarian reasons. He said international organisations would be allowed into the conflict-plagued region.

Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine prior to yesterday’s crash, but many carriers, including cash-strapped Malaysia Airlines, had continued to use the route because ‘it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money,’ said aviation expert Norman Shanks.

Within hours of the tragedy, several airlines said they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.

A U.S. official said American intelligence authorities believe the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile but are still working to determine additional details about the crash, including who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukraine side of the border.

But American intelligence assessments suggest it is more likely pro-Russian separatists or the Russians rather than Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane, according to the official.

The United States has sophisticated technologies which can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from the rocket engine.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at about 33,000ft (10,000m) when it was hit by a missile from a Buk launcher, which can fire up to an altitude of 72,000ft (22,000m). He said only that his information was based on ‘intelligence’.

Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said both Ukrainian and Russian forces have SA-17 missile systems – also known as Buk ground-to-air launcher systems.

Rebels had recently bragged about having acquired Buk systems.

Mr Sutyagin said Russia had supplied separatists with military hardware but had seen no evidence ‘of the transfer of that type of system from Russia’.

Earlier yesterday, AP journalists saw a launcher that looked like a Buk missile system near the eastern town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels.

Mr Poroshenko said his country’s armed forces did not shoot at any airborne targets.

Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the Associated Press news agency he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down, but gave no explanation or proof.

There have been several disputes over planes being shot down over eastern Ukraine in recent days.

A Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down on Wednesday by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the insurgents.

Pro-Russia rebels claimed responsibility for strikes on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets on Wednesday. Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile but the pilot landed safely.



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