Investigators have rebuilt the front end of Malaysia Flight 17 in a Dutch hangar from some of the 8,000 fragments recovered from its crash site. The Boeing 777, 20 feet wide and 200 feet long, was shot down by a warhead in July 2014 as it flew over Ukraine, killing 298 people. This week, 60 Minutes reports on the disaster.
The warhead detonated ten feet to the left of Captain Eugene Choo's windscreen, projecting an estimated 800 pieces of shrapnel, each the size of a bullet. The Dutch Safety Board says the greatest density of holes, 102, is through the pilot's window. Shrapnel tore through the cockpit and out the other side. The cockpit sheared away. And the rest of the plane flew another minute and a half, leaving debris scattered over a wide area. Passengers were thrashed by explosive decompression and a 500 mile an hour wind at 40 degrees below zero. One passenger was found wearing his oxygen mask.
"We were able to identify, from the 298 casualties, 296. So, for two people we didn't find any remains," Fred Westerbeke, the chief prosecutor investigating the tragedy, said.
MH17 pushed back from gate G3 at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at 12:31pm local time. It flew east over Germany and Poland, making a course adjustment over Ukraine to avoid possible thunderstorms. The Boeing 777 was almost three hours into a 12-hour route, on its way from to Kuala Lumpur, when a missile warhead exploded feet from the cockpit. The plane was crossing over an area that was in the midst of a war started by Ukrainian rebels and their Russian backers. Russia moved into Crimea, which was part of Ukraine, and annexed it in early 2014. Then separatists in eastern Ukraine, supplied by Moscow, took the area of eastern Ukraine along the Russian border. It was the beginning of a bloody conflict that has left more than 13,000 dead.
Ukraine had air superiority and used it to stop the rebel advance, until Russia began supplying the rebels with anti-aircraft missiles. In the days before MH17 met its end, two Ukrainian military planes were shot down in the area. Ukraine closed the airspace to civilian traffic below 32,000 feet but despite that, the day Flight 17 entered the airspace, 160 airliners crossed above that flight ceiling in eastern Ukraine. It was cloudy and the last words heard from the crew came when Flight 17, at 33,000 feet, responded to a Ukrainian flight controller's direction towards its next waypoint, repeating the coordinates: ROMEO NOVEMBER DELTA, Malaysian one seven. The Ukrainian tower repeated its call four times over the next two minutes, but MH17 had already disappeared from radar and was falling through the clouds, scattering bodies, luggage and parts of the plane, along with shrapnel from the missile, over 20 square miles of rebel-controlled territory.
No one took responsibility for the shootdown, and 350 investigators from five countries began almost six years of work figuring out what happened.