This Day In History: July 17

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On July 17, halfway through a flight from Amsterdam to Malaysia, a passenger plane was shot down over the war-torn Ukraine-Russia Border. All 298 people on board, most of whom were citizens of the Netherlands, died in the explosion.

It was the second Malaysian Air flight to disappear in 2014, after flight 370 crashed over the Indian Ocean on March 8.

The plane took off from Amsterdam at 10:31 GMT. It was expected to fly over the Ukraine-Russia border which, due to a war between Ukrainian fighters and Pro-Russia separatists, had instituted a minimum-altitude restriction just three days earlier to keep planes from being caught in any potential crossfire. The plane made contact and flew into country lines in accordance with restrictions, but disappeared a few hours later, just 30 miles from the border. No distress signal was received.

Questions arose about the flight path. Was it safe? As it turned out, the path had been approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and by the countries that controlled the airspace through which the plane was set to travel.

While it wasn’t clear in the beginning, it was suspected the plane had been shot down by “ill-trained” Russian separatists. Four days later, after investigators were finally able to get their hands on the plane's black box, these suspicions were confirmed. The explosion had definitely not come from within. The recorder revealed that, as the plane approached the border, a “high-energy object” exploded a yard from the cockpit, breaking it completely off from the rest of the plane. The pilots were killed instantly. The rest of the plane flew for more than five miles before finally breaking apart. The debris scattered over more than 20 square miles of field.

It took 15 months to figure out which side of the war the projectile had come from. In October, 2015, Dutch investigators were able to discern that the blast had been caused by a Russian-made missile. In June 2016, over two years after the plane was shot down, an international group of investigators published a photo of large part of a Russian-made Buk missile that was found at the crash site.

Finally, in May of 2018, after four years of gathering evidence, a release from the Netherlands and Australia said that it wasn’t just a Russian-made missile that had taken down Flight 17, but that they were officially holding Russia accountable.

"We call on Russia to accept its responsibility and cooperate fully with the process to establish the truth and achieve justice for the victims of flight MH17 and their next of kin," Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said. The families of the victims have also begged them to take responsibility.

For their part, Russia has repeatedly denied the accusation, claiming that the missile "more than likely belongs to the Ukrainian armed forces."