Jet passengers may have been alive for 90 seconds after rocket struck
The missile that downed Malaysia Airlines flight 17 exploded less than a metre from the cockpit, killing the crew inside instantly and breaking off the front of the plane.
That's according to the Dutch Safety Board, which yesterday presented the results of an official probe into the crash in eastern Ukraine.
Investigators revealed some passengers may have remained conscious for another minute or so as the airflow tore off their clothes and objects spinning through the cabin killed people in neighbouring seats.
The safety board added that the tragedy that killed all 298 people aboard the plane on July 17, 2014, wouldn't have happened if anyone had closed the airspace of eastern Ukraine to passenger planes as fighting raged below.
The report did not consider who launched the missile. However, it identified an area of 320 square kilometres from which the launch must have taken place.
All the territory within the area was in rebel separatist hands at the time of the crash.
Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said the 15-month investigation found the warhead was that used on a Buk surface-to-air missile system.
Joustra said that Ukraine authorities had "sufficient reason" to close the airspace in that area, but "nobody gave a thought" to the possible threat to civil aviation.
Missile fragments found in the cockpit crew's bodies, as well as paint traces, enabled investigators to identify the Buk, Joustra said.
The investigators unveiled a ghostly reconstruction of the forward section of MH17. Some of the nose, cockpit and business class of the Boeing 777 were rebuilt from fragments recovered from the crash scene and flown to Gilze-Rijen air base in southern Netherlands.
Yesterday in the village of Hrabove where the jet came down, Lyudmila Grigoryak - whose house was the closest to the crash site - brought red carnations to the field of dry grass where small pieces of the fuselage are still scattered.
Unlike a year and a half ago when heavy fighting was just nearby, the area is quiet.
All the camouflaged rebels who were patrolling the area and manning the checkpoints are gone.
Hours before the report was released, the missile's Russian maker presented its own report trying to clear the separatists, and Russia itself, of any involvement in the disaster.
Almaz-Antey contended that its experiments - in one of which a Buk missile was detonated near the nose of an airplane similar to a 777 - contradict that conclusion.
The experimental aircraft's remains showed a much different damage pattern than seen on the remnants of MH17, the company said in a statement.
It said the experiments also refute claims that the missile was fired from Snizhne, a village under rebel control.
However, an Associated Press reporter saw a Buk missile system in that vicinity on the same day.