A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 fell from the sky in the rebel-held Donetsk Oblast of Eastern Ukraine today, killing all 298 people on board, and sparking a flurry of competing theories over what exactly happened.
Unnamed “senior US officials” claimed to have seen radar evidence suggesting the plane was targeted by a surface-to-air missile, though Senate Intelligence Committee officials insisted they left a classified briefing on the matter with no evidence that a missile was fired at all, let alone that it caused the downing.
It had some hawks in Congress crossing their fingers though that there was some way to blame Russia for the incident, promising “hell to pay” if Russia is ever actually implicated.
Ukraine was quick to blame the rebels of Donetsk for the shoot-down, though this allegation does not appear to be based on anything either. They cited the rebels downing military aircraft in the area with shoulder-fired missiles.
But the plane was flying at 33,000 feet, according to multiple reports, and the missiles the rebels were using on Ukrainian military aircraft have a ceiling of only 5,000 to 10,000 feet. Only more advanced vehicle-based surface-to-air missiles, like the 9K33 OSA or the 9K37 Buk are capable of hitting a plane flying so high above the warzone.
The rebels aren’t believed to have any such capabilities. Indeed, such missiles would not be high priority for them, since they are much harder to use than the portable shoulder-fired variety, and their primary utility is in hitting low-flying Ukrainian warplanes and attack helicopters.
Both Ukraine and Russia’s militaries do have such capabilites. Still, there is no evidence which, if either, actually may have used such a missile, nor any conceivable reason for either to do so.
Ukraine had conspicuously deployed a 9k37 Buk to the warzone earlier, making much of such deployments as a deterrent to a potential Russian invasion of the east to defend the rebels, who are largely ethnic Russians. Russian officials blamed the Ukrainian military for the shoot-down, though as with everyone else offered no evidence for that claim.
A no-fly zone was imposed over the area by the Ukrainian military, but only up to a level of 32,000 feet, meaning the Boeing 777 was flying well above that limit when it was lost.
The actual truth behind what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is likely not to be known for awhile, and the desperation among assorted factions to hastily blame a convenient foe is likely to hamper any reasonable investigation.