A 60-minute product explains the story's evolution on the MH17

A 60-minute product explains the story's evolution on the MH17
Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it disappeared from radar and suddenly fired from the sky, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board. The aircraft was hit while flying over eastern Ukraine, as Russian-backed separatists took control of the territory and were waging war against the Ukrainian army. The chain of events began when Russia moved its army to the Crimea, which was part of Ukraine, earlier this year.

There was international outrage at what appeared to be the downfall of the MH17 and suspicion immediately fell on the rebels and their Russian supporters. The US government directed the finger in its direction, but it will not release secret satellite data that had to back up its accusations.

Demand for the investigation was stronger in the Netherlands, with 193 citizens on board.

Two formal investigations began immediately. The Dutch Safety Council began to consider how to drop the MH17. Dutch prosecutors and police formed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with their counterparts from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. All these countries, with the exception of Ukraine, had citizens on board the MH17.

JIT members agreed that if they developed enough material, these cases would be tried in a Dutch court.

There was also an informal investigation by the newly formed Internet group known as Bellingcat, which had begun publishing its findings online within weeks of the accident. Early on, Beilinkat tracked the route of the missile convoy through eastern Ukraine on the day of the shooting and found a video the next morning showing the same convoy heading to the Russian border, with one of the missiles missing from the rocket launcher.

In October 2014, the group will identify the missile as belonging to the 53rd Russian anti-aircraft missile brigade.
A year after the shooting, 60-minute producer Henry Schuster and reporter Scott Bailey began reporting a part about MH17.

"At this point, there was still a lot to learn," says Shuster to spend extra time. "Bellingcat's investigations were conducted, but the Dutch Safety Board did not release its report. The joint investigation team was not even in the stage of issuing witness appeals."

Although official investigations were slow in progress, Schuster and his team continued their research, spoke to relatives about their loss, spoke to prosecutors about the case and discussed with Elliot Higgins, Bellingcat's founder, open source investigation techniques. The team even began organizing a trip to the rebels ’territory in Ukraine to retrace the course of the missile that hit the MH17, using Bellingcat data.

“For various reasons, we could not go to Ukraine at that time, so we put this story aside ... [but] we always wanted to go back to it,” Schuster says. "How can 298 people be shot from the sky, and we're not doing a piece around this? This wasn't a plane crash. It was a projection. This was, you know, it was a murder."

Schuster kept in touch with his sources and watched the case progress, pending a good time "to do the story we've always been supposed to do."

"Then we got news that the joint investigation team announced that they were accusing four men, and that there will be a trial in the Dutch courtroom in March," Schuster said. "We thought, we should go back."

The Dutch Safety Authority has already published its findings, and has concluded that the MH17 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile known as Bok and that the missile's track indicates that it was launched from eastern Ukraine.

In May 2018, almost four years after the accident, JIT announced that it believed the Buk missile installation that dropped the MH17 had been fired from rebel territory and was part of the Russian army. In the summer of 2019, Dutch investigators announced the date of the first trial of MH17 and the names of the four men being tried: Igor Girkin, Sergey Dobinsky and Oleg Polatov of Russia, and Leonid Kharkenko of Ukraine. They are all members of a pro-Russian armed militia that was part of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk. According to Schuster, these are the names of those who "requested and attended the killing weapon," but investigators are still working to determine and only provide those who were running the launch pad.

JIT also achieved in the chain of command. In November, she made a fresh call to witnesses and published several phone calls between the rebels and Russian military personnel. Among the names mentioned in those calls were the Russian Minister of Defense, the deputy head of the Russian Internal Security Service and the advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The trial started in March and is still in its early stages. Bulatov is the only accused to appoint attorneys. Dutch law allowed him not to appear in the courtroom and stayed in Russia. Before the trial began, he found 60 minutes that Jerkin was living in Moscow and the rebels denied dropping the MH17.

"We have already learned a lot of the procedures that the prosecution said in the trial," Schuster says. "In the interviews we had with them before they started, the prosecutor alluded to more eyewitnesses and discovered how much they saw the missile battery before and after it was launched. There are more audiotapes that we have not heard from the defendants."

While this trial could take more than a year, "it will not necessarily be the last to drop the MH17 ... This is just the opening round," says Schuster. New evidence implicating others has already been revealed in the early days of the trial. "The four men who have been charged, are somehow in the middle level ... I mean, they are going to go down. They'll go up. This could reach the Kremlin."

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