Leading Aviation Lawyer Says MH17 Interim Report Raises Questions About Airspace Restrictions

Many Questions Still Remain Including The Reasons For The Aircraft’s Chosen Altitude


The preliminary report issued in relation to the Malaysia Airlines MH17 tragedy in July has highlighted how the crash was a “catastrophic and rapid” event and raises concerns regarding why more was not done to prevent commercial aircraft from flying in the area, according to specialist aviation lawyers.

Published by the Dutch Safety Board, the report has provided an early update on the investigations being undertaken into the crash involving the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in which 298 passengers and crew died.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Evidence which suggests the flight was brought down by numerous high energy objects
  • That the aircraft was just 1,000ft above the restricted airspace when the incident occurred
  • Co-ordinated access to wreckage has not been possible for investigators so far
  • Evidence has been downloaded successfully from black-box data recorders onboard the flight, with the data stopping abruptly on the equipment with no systems warnings detected
  • That three other commercial aircraft were also flying in the same region when the incident occurred.

Jim Morris, former RAF Boeing AWACS pilot and Partner in Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Aviation Law team, represents both injured victims and the families of those killed in major aviation accidents across the globe.
This leading aviation litigation team’s experience also includes expertise in representing the victims of civilian air accidents that occur in war and conflict zones or as a result of terrorism.
Reacting to report published today, he said:

Expert Opinion
The preliminary findings published so far, particularly the abrupt end to the black-box recording data, highlights that this was both a catastrophic and rapid event. The fact that the report states that the damage observed to the forward fuselage and cockpit was consistent with damage that would be expected from a large number of high energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from the outside, indicates that a high energy event outside the aircraft caused a catastrophic in-flight break up.

“The report does not state that these high energy objects were from a missile, but these reported facts mean that it is almost inevitable that the aircraft was brought down by a missile.

“Of particular concern is the fact that MH17 was flying just 1,000 above the restricted airspace zone above a conflict zone. Considering the risk of surface-to-air missiles in this region and that other military aircraft had been shot down in the area, there is undoubtedly a strong argument that the increase in the size and height of the restricted zone introduced following the crash could and should have been implemented earlier. Had it been, this terrible tragedy could have been avoided.

“On a similar issue, the aircraft’s original flight plan was for it to fly at 35,000ft. However, there is evidence the crew requested air traffic control in the area to allow them to maintain an altitude of 33,000ft. There is clearly a need to understand the reasons behind this decision and why it was made, as well as why the flight plan itself involved flying directly across a known conflict zone and restricted area.

“The findings in the report outlining that the data from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders was downloadable with no indication of manipulation is positive. This means the information should be reliable and should provide vital evidence during further investigations. However, the lack of access to the wreckage by the Dutch Safety Board remains a major concern for us and could significantly hamper investigators’ abilities to fully investigate all aspects of this incident. We are also particularly concerned that they may be unable to examine the materials that caused the high energy impacts as this may reduce their ability to identify exactly where these materials originated from.

“In conclusion, clearly a number of questions remain unanswered by this preliminary report and it is vital that international co-operation on in relation to the on-going investigation continues so that the families who have lost loved ones receive the answers they want, which in turn should assist them in obtaining the justice that they deserve.

“It is also clear that there could be significant flight safety lessons to learn from this terrible tragedy.”
Jim Morris, Partner

 The Irwin Mitchell Aviation Law team’s extensive experience acting in major aviation cases includes:

  • Representing the families of victims of the Lockerbie disaster involving Pan Am Flight 73 in 1988
  • Acting for relatives of those killed in the September 11th World Trade Center attacks in 2001
  • Representing families affected by the Kenya Airways flight KQ507 crash in Cameroon in 2007, when investigations were affected by the loss and looting of wreckage
  • Acting for dozens of Afghan, UK and US families of passengers killed when a civilian flight operated by Pamir Airways came down in Afghanistan in 2010
  • Representing the families of passengers killed in the Dana Air tragedy, when a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 crashed during its final approach to Lagos Airport in Nigeria
  • Acting for the victims of several recent helicopter crashes which occurred in Glasgow, London, Shetland, the North Sea, France and Rwanda.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Air Accident Claims.