WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. officials strongly suspect Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down by some kind of surface-to-air missile. But, it remains unclear who fired it or whether the passenger jet was deliberately targeted.
Some answers will have to come through intelligence, but some will come from the wreckage and the plane's black boxes.
The trail of debris clearly shows the jet began breaking up mid-air. Wreckage and bodies are spread out over several miles along the flight path. That would be consistent with the plane being ripped apart by aerodynamic forces after the aircraft was penetrated by a high explosive projectile, like a missile.
Large sections of the jet have been recovered away from the primary crash site. At the impact crater, the wreckage is pulverized and charred. That suggests the plane hit the ground at a high rate of speed and then was engulfed in a large fire. The fuel tanks in the wings were heavily loaded for the eleven-hour flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur.
It's not clear who will take part in this investigation. But, Ukraine will likely need to bring in some high-powered expertise, perhaps from the U.S. or Great Britain.
Aviation structure and fire experts need to examine the aircraft's wreckage for residue of missile propellant and evidence the jet's skin was punctured by a high-speed impact.
It is imperative experts get a chance to read out the black boxes. They should be able to confirm that this was not an aircraft accident and that the pilots were caught completely unaware by a missile strike.