Families of victims of the MH17 disaster in eastern Ukraine may have a difficult time bringing home their loved ones for a proper burial as International Civil Aviation Organization protocols are repeatedly violated by the Russian-backed separatists blamed for shooting down the plane.
The separatists have denied unrestricted independent access by the related parties — Ukraine, as the state in which the crash occurred, Malaysia as the state whose flag carrier was involved, Boeing and other systems makers that contributed to the destroyed 777, and primary safety regulators, starting with but not limited to the United States Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, which certified the Boeing design.
Australian rules mirror those of most jurisdictions in permitting the removal of bodies from crash sites as a priority. This has not happened in this case. Sadly, some relatives will not get back their loved ones’ mortal remains in full or at all. And that is assuming that decency and respect prevails at the widespread wreckage sites from this moment on, after news that substantial recoveries have been made and placed in refrigerated rail cars.
Tony Abbott took the unusually frank but proper step in raising these matters earlier today, as the Australian government pursued its goals of a strong condemnatory resolution in the UN and an impartial international investigation of the accident.
Authorities also need access to the physical wreckage of MH17 to determine several key pieces of information about the crash. The rules emphasise preserving the positions of the physical wreckage as much as possible against further disturbance so that any clues as to the position of flaps, the deployment of ram air turbines or the state of the engines prior to impact are able to be determined.
Physical wreckage is often tested in a lab for materials failure or examined for traces of explosives that might be linked to a bomb, or a warhead on a surface-to-air missile.
The use of a proximity-detonated warhead — which blasted the airliner with so much high-velocity shrapnel that control surfaces were destroyed, a pressurised fuselage was punctured and hydraulic and electrical control lines severed — would leave obvious “punch in” marks on the wreckage, distinct from “blow out” ruptures.
The cockpit voice recorder will be valuable in clearing up what Ukrainian air traffic control said to MH17 as it flew a route further north and deeper into the conflict zone than it had in the previous week.
The more detailed flight data recorder would have captured the nature and sequence of various control failures on the jet, which are likely to have happened simultaneously.
Australia’s interests, as a country whose nationals are among the casualties, are also recognised by the long-accepted procedures for air crash investigations.
Most of them have been in West, by the West, although two of the most controversial, the fighter intercept of Korean Airlines flight 007 over eastern Siberia in 1983, and the Iran Air downing by the USS Vincennes in 1988, resulted in major efforts to rewrite or obscure their history by Soviet and US authorities respectively.
Will the truth come out in the case of MH17? Much of it is out already. It’s a case of taking responsibility for Russia, the Ukraine, ICAO and Malaysia Airlines.
There are serious issues for each of those parties to address. But nothing will take away the prime responsibility for the actual atrocity, which resides with whoever armed the separatists, and those who shot down the plane.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.