In order to solve the mystery of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 which left all 298 aboard dead, experts say investigators will need to get their hands on two critical pieces of the puzzle: the debris on the ground and the black box.
Retired U.S. Rear Adm. William M. Fogarty told TPM that investigators should start by interviewing everyone connected to the incident. Fogarty — a then-legal adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified before Congress during the investigation of the 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by the U.S. military — urged investigators to steer clear of the media during the process.
“The investigators need to interview all, repeat all, personnel involved in the incident, and retrieve and review all audio, visual, and weapon related information to have a second by second recap of the incident,” Fogarty said. “The investigators need to be secluded and protected from media and other personnel during their investigation. Any outside influence could take away from ‘ground truth’ facts, and possibly distort the findings of the investigation.”
Aviation experts explained the two key clues to getting to the bottom of the tragedy.
“The very first thing that investigators are looking for is an undisturbed debris field,” said Captain Ross Aimer, the CEO of Aero Consulting Experts. “It has to be immediately cornered off where nobody can touch any of the evidence. Even a tiny piece — a screw, a nut, and I hate to say it, human flesh — is evidence that investigators look at.”
A tampered wreckage zone can create problems for investigators but experts believe even small things can provide huge clues into the mystery.
“The good thing is even if you have a tiny piece of that airplane — it doesn’t have to be a big one — the forensic scientists and investigators could discover many things from that tiny piece of wreckage: traces of residue by a missile, by a bomb, a fuel explosion,” Aimer said. “Everybody’s saying it’s a missile but they could be wrong. So investigators will go there with an open mind and look at everything.”
Patrick Smith of Aviation Experts said the wreckage will likely contain traces of the missile. As possible clues he mentioned the heat signature of the missile, a production number that can trace it to its source and the signature of the explosive itself.
Then there’s the black box, which is bright orange and contains a data and voice recorder.
Smith said the data recorder has “hundreds of data points” such as air speed, altitude and engine details. The voice recorder, he said, contains the communications within the cockpit, which may provide hints as to why the pilot was flying in what authorities have for a while said is a treacherous zone. It’s conceivable the airliner was trying to save fuel, Smith said, because flying through the eastern Ukraine region where the jet crashed (which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists) was the fastest way to get from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
“The question I would ask is if this was a missile fired, and evidence points in that direction, who launched it? Because whoever launched it had to have some experience,” Smith said. “To operate those particular platforms — it takes a lot of time to train people to use that.”
Adm. Fogarty cautioned that in these situations the “first media reports are hardly ever correct” and urged investigators and reporters not to let politics and opinions impact their work.
Aimer and Smith said they’re optimistic the mystery will be solved.
“The investigators will find out exactly what happened to this airplane because unlike the other Malaysian Airlines flight [which disappeared] all the evidence is there,” Aimer said.
“This one will be solved,” Smith said. “There won’t be a grey answer on this deal.”