Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile, concluded a Dutch investigation on Tuesday, a verdict immediately denounced by Russia as "biased."
The long-awaited findings of the Dutch Safety Board, which was not empowered to address questions of responsibility, did not specify who launched the missile. It does say that airspace over eastern Ukraine should have been closed, however.
"A 9n314m warhead detonated outside the aeroplane to the left side of the cockpit. This fits the kind of warhead installed in the Buk surface-to-air missile system," said Safety Board head Tjibbe Joustra, presenting the report. The front of the aircraft was destroyed immediately, killing all three pilots and causing the rest of the plane to break apart.
Russia had disputed the type of missile used, he added.
"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," Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Tuesday.
The Boeing 777 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 last year — the height of the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia separatists — when it crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Both Russian and Ukrainian military forces possess Buk missile systems. Pro-Russia rebels have been blamed by the West and Ukraine for bringing down the plane, whereas Russia has claimed that a missile was fired from the Ukrainian-controlled region.
Later on Tuesday an international team of prosecutors conducting a criminal investigation into the downing of MH17 said on Tuesday it had identified "persons of interest."
Prosecutors said their independent findings so far "point in that same direction" as the Safety Board.
Just before the release of the final report, the Russian manufacturer of Buk missile systems Almaz-Antey published its own findings into the crash saying it had conducted experiments demonstrated the missile could not have been fired from territory controlled by pro-Russia rebels. Instead it must have been fired from Ukrainian government-controlled territory, it claimed.
Following the release of the Dutch Safety Board report, Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte said that the priority was finding and prosecuting the perpetrators.
"I want to call on Russian authorities to respect but also to provide complete co-operation with this report and the following criminal investigation by the Dutch public prosecutor in collaboration with four other countries," he said.
The Dutch Safety Board, in its briefing at the Gilze-Rijen military base in the Netherlands, has released an accompanying explanatory video.
Relatives of the crash victims were briefed earlier in the day, before reporters. They were told any passengers not killed by the impact would have quickly lost consciousness due to the sudden decompression of the plane, they said, though the Safety Board could not rule out some remaining consciousness during the one and half minutes it took to crash.
The Dutch Safety Board also highlighted that a few days prior to the disaster, Ukrainian authorities reported that two military planes were shot down above eastern Ukraine. "The Ukrainian authorities did not consider closing the airspace over the eastern part of Ukraine to civil aviation completely. The statements made by the Ukrainian authorities on 14 and 17 July 2014, related to the military aeroplanes being shot down, mentioned the use of weapon systems that can reach the cruising altitude of civil aeroplanes," it said.
The report continues: "In the judgment of the Dutch Safety Board, these statements provided sufficient reason for closing the airspace over the conflict zone as a precaution."
Data indicates that during the period between 14 up to and including 17 July, 61 operators from 32 states used the airspace over eastern Ukraine.
The Safety Board's report was an "important milestone in the effort to hold accountable those responsible" for the disaster, said the White House.