MH17 Malaysia airliner crash: Six theories on what happened to the ill-fated plane
THE downing of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing near the Russian/Ukraine border with the loss of over 300 lives has focussed worldwide attention on what is rapidly becoming a European war zone, with all its attendant dangers.
Eerily, the Boeing 777 is the same type of aircraft - from the same airline - which disappeared earlier this year (flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing).
But there the coincidence ends.
The wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 which crashed today, MH17, has been found - and there seems little doubt about what caused its tragic fate.
What happened to flight MH17?
- Theory 1 - Surface-to-air missile
Among the early theories is that the Malaysian plane, flying at over 30,000 feet, was hit by a high performance surface-to-air (SAM) missile system.
Almost certainly, the missile system used was Russian in origin.
The big question: who launched it?
Recently, pro Russian separatists have used MANPADs (shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles) to successfully shoot down Ukrainian helicopters and transport planes in the last few months, but all at low altitudes. The height at which MH17 was flying at rules out this type of MANPAD.
Russia has been accused of secretly supplying modern weapons to the pro Russian separatists in the Ukraine, which it has routinely denied.
Within the last 24 hours, there have been reports that a Ukrainian ground attack plane, an SU -25 Frogfoot, was fired on by a Russian jet fighter. The Russians protested at the weekend that Ukrainian artillery shells landed on their terrority and since then they have been "beefing up" their border forces.
- Theory 2 - Plane flew into restricted zone:
Another theory is that the Malaysian plane strayed into a restricted zone and was fired on. A NOTAM, or Notice to Airmen, was in effect for the conflict zone and Western airlines had been routing around it.
If pro Russian forces in eastern Ukraine brought down the plane, they must have been supplied with sophisticated SAMS, possibly a missile like an updated SA 6 or SA 11, a vehicle launched rocket which could reach 30,000 ft.
The rebel forces have so far denied they were responsible.
- Theory 3 - a Russian SAM battery:
Another alternative is that a Russian SAM battery, with a sophisticated S-200 or S-300 missile, engaged the plane as it approached the Russian border, but it is difficult to see how the Russians would benefit from such an action.
It's worth recalling that a large four-engined jet, a Ukrainian Air Force Illushin Il-76, was brought down in the same region a few weeks ago by pro Russian separatists.
The Il-76 would give a similiar radar return to a large airliner like the Malaysian Boeing.
- Theory 4 - A catastrophic case of mistaken identity
The most likely explanation is that the Malaysian jet, on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar, was brought down by mistake - by one of the parties involved in the increasingly dangerous conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The plane was some 300kms from the Russian border when it came down.
Pro Russian separatists may have gained access to former Ukrainian high performance SAMS recovered from Ukrainain air force bases or even the Crimea.
The only other force in the region with the sophisticated weaponry to bring down an airliner at 33,000 feet is the Ukrainian armed forces themselves.
In 2001, a Siberia Airline TU 154 airliner was brought down over the Black Sea by a surface-to-air missile fired by mistake - by Ukrainian forces during an exercise.
- Theory 5 - bomb:
Another theory, unfounded at this stage, is that a terrorist bomb on board destroyed the Boeing.
- Theory 6 - technical failure:
Investigators will also look at whether a mechanical failure was responsible.
The investigation now underway will ultimately point the finger of blame at whoever downed the Malaysian plane.
The aircraft's "black boxes," will contain vital clues for investigators.
The fact that the wreckage was spread over such a wide area which initially points to an explosion at high altitude.