THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed because a Russian-made Buk missile exploded just outside the left side of the airplane's cockpit, the Dutch Safety Board chairman said Tuesday.
Chairman Tjibbe Joustra presented the findings of a 15-month-long investigation which was able to conclude that Flight 17 was shot down by a sophisticated surface-to-air, but not exactly where that missile was fired from.
The U.S., Ukraine, and their Western allies insist Russian-back separatists or the Russians themselves shot the plane down, while Russia has said repeatedly it had to have been the Ukrainian military.
"Flight 17 crashed as the result of the detonation of a warhead outside the airplane," said chairman Tjibbe Joustra. After the explosion, he added, "the forward part of the plane was torn off."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by Russian news agencies as dismissing the Dutch investigation.
"It's a source of regret that, despite all Russia's repeated and lengthy attempts to organize the investigation in such a way that it is comprehensive and unbiased, and for it to consider all the information we have ... there is an obvious attempt to draw a biased conclusion, and carry out political orders," Ryabkov was quoted as saying, according to Reuters.
In its official report, the Dutch Safety Board concluded: "As a result of the impact and the subsequent blast, the three crew members in the cockpit were killed immediately and the aeroplane broke up in the air. Wreckage from the aeroplane was distributed over various sites within an area of 50 square kilometres," or about 31 square miles.
There were 298 people on board when the Boeing 777 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, amidst the ongoing conflict between Kiev and Russian-backed rebels. There had been alternating theories about why exactly the plane went down -- from meteors to engine failure -- and Joustra said the board's investigation had eliminated all of them.
The Dutch report says Buk missile fragments struck the plane at speeds of 2,800-5,600 mph, "tearing off the cockpit" and instantly killing the two pilots and the purser.
It said a "pressure wave" of hot air a few milliseconds after the blast caused a shock wave that may have been felt throughout the plane. The missile explosion also caused a "deafening sound wave" and the airplane's sudden deceleration, then speeding up as it fell to Earth, "may have caused dizziness, nausea and loss of consciousness."
The report said outside temperatures were -40 to -58 degrees Fahrenheit. Some Flight 17 victims were found without clothes on the ground. The report said the "powerful airflow" ripped them from their bodies.
Joustra said repeatedly Tuesday the airspace over eastern Ukraine should have been closed to civil aviation, but stopped short of saying who the board believed fired the fatal missile.
In its investigation, the Dutch Safety Board found that while the airspace over the conflict zone should have been closed, especially because of a pair of recent-at-the-time, relatively high-altitude downings of other aircraft, "it is rare for a state to close its airspace because of an armed conflict."
Ukraine and Western countries contend the missile was fired by Russian troops or Russian-backed separatists.
Russian concern Almaz-Antey had said in June that a preliminary investigation suggested that the plane was downed by a model of Buk that is no longer in service with the Russian military.
However, Almaz-Antey head Yan Novikov on Tuesday hedged on that conclusion, suggesting it could have been a model even older than previously believed.
He said an experiment was conducted in July in which a missile was fired at aluminum sheets mimicking an airliner's fuselage and that shrapnel from that firing indicated an older missile model. That information was presented to the Dutch investigators, but was not taken into account, he claimed.
Almaz-Antey then conducted a "natural experiment" using a decommissioned Ilyushin-86 airliner, which Novikov said is similar to the B-777. Novikov said evidence shows that if the plane was hit by a Buk, it was fired from the village of Zaroshenske, which Russia says was under Ukrainian government control at the time.
A U.S. official who saw the draft report before it was presented publicly said it concluded the plane was destroyed by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from the village of Snizhne, which was under rebel control. The official, who wasn't authorized to comment publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Many reports, including an investigation by the open-source group Bellingcat, also suggest the plane was downed by a missile fired from near Snizhne.
An Associated Press journalist saw a Buk missile system in the area on the same day the airliner went down. That narrative meshes with AP findings in the hours before the downing.
In a statement on Tuesday, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said: "We maintain our support for the work being conducted by the countries of the Joint Investigation Team, and reiterate that the United States will fully support all efforts to bring to justice those responsible. Our assessment is unchanged -- MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine."
Malaysia's prime minister, speaking about the downing of MH-17, said Tuesday the world "must move forward toward ensuring that those responsible are held accountable for this murderous act. "
Prime Minister Najib Razak said: "15 months may have passed, but our commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice remains as strong as it was on that fateful day, 17 July 2014, when hundreds of innocent people lost their lives in a conflict that was not theirs."
Of the 298 lives lost when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a Buk missile, 43 were Malaysians.
The Malaysian leader also noted that no one was advised by the relevant authorities against any specific threats to aviation.
The Netherlands headed the investigation. Russia in July vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to establish an international criminal tribunal to investigate the airliner's destruction.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country "seeks justice" but that the resolution was politically motivated. Any criminal charges will come later. A separate investigation by the Dutch prosecutor's office is charged with identifying suspects in the launching of the missile and building a case against them.