1. Why is an investigation necessary?
In the event of an aircraft accident, it is very important to conduct an investigation in order to clearly ascertain the cause. This will allow the surviving relatives, other parties involved and also the world to understand what happened based on a factual account. An investigation can also contribute to the safety of civilian (and other) aviation: recommendations are made whenever necessary to avoid similar incidents in the future.
The Dutch Safety Board believes that the MH17 crash should be the subject of an extensive and in-depth investigation. In addition to the (international) investigation into the cause of the crash, the decision-making process surrounding flightroutes and the availability of passenger lists will also be examined.
2. Why is the Dutch Safety Board leading the investigation?
Ukraine has transferred responsibility for investigating the cause of the crash to the Dutch Safety Board. The request came from Ukraine.
This request was made because the flight departed from the Netherlands, and due to the large number of Dutch nationals who died in the crash. The transfer was formally recorded in an agreement on 23 July.
3. Which countries are involved in the investigation and why?
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) states that it is the responsibility of the country where an aircraft accident took place to investigate the cause. Immediately following the crash of flight MH17, aviation investigators from Ukraine began investigating the cause of the accident. The Netherlands (as one of the countries affected) received official word of the crash of MH17 from the investigators shortly after it took place, including an invitation to take part in the investigation.
The ICAO agreement dictates that certain countries are obliged to be involved in the investigation. In principle, the country where the accident took place (state of occurance) should lead the investigation. However, the option is available to transfer the obligation of the investigation to another country. The countries where the operator is based, where the aircraft was designed and where it was built are also entitled to take part. Countries that can supply specific information or expertise may participate at the invitation of the party leading the investigation. Countries that suffered fatalities are also entitled to play a part in the investigation, but have limited rights.
In the case of the MH17 crash, many countries volunteered their assistance of their own accord. In some cases this assistance was accepted because the investigators had specific knowledge, information or expertise to offer.
The following countries have contributed (to a greater or lesser extent) to the international investigation team into the crash of flight MH17: Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Italy and Indonesia. The ICAO and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also contributed to the investigation as organisations. The leadership of the investigation rests with the Dutch Safety Board, which will publish both the preliminary and final report. The countries that have a formal role as participants in the investigation under the ICAO agreement will be given access to the draft reports, and may provide feedback. The country leading the investigation may offer other countries access to the draft reports at its discretion.
4. Is it possible to conduct an effective investigation if nobody has visited the crash site itself?
Although additional investigation at the crash site itself is preferable, it is not impossible to conduct an effective investigation based on other sources and to produce a definitive final report. Incidentally, on the days following the incident (when Ukraine was still leading the investigation), several Ukrainian aviation investigators visited the crash site briefly several times for investigative purposes.
Once a secure and stable situation has been established, the Dutch Safety Board will visit the location. This in order to verify the results of the investigation from other sources and to conduct a specific search for wreckage and other vital pieces.
5. Why has the Dutch Safety Board not yet visited the crash site?
The Dutch Safety Board was not able to visit the crash site because the safety of the investigators could not be guaranteed. The Dutch government believes that people investigating the causes of the crash will be at greater risk than forensic investigators, next of kin or journalists. In this respect, the safety of others at the crash site is also being taken into account: the presence of Dutch Safety Board investigators must not put others in danger.
Moreover, recovering the victims’ bodies and searching for personal belongings had top priority. The opportunities for visiting the crash site were limited, and priority was given to forensic investigators (and the supporting marechaussees).
6. What is a preliminary report?
The preliminary report is an interim report used to publish the initial results of an investigation following an major aircraft accident. The ICAO agreement that sets out the investigative procedures for civil and other aviation states that a preliminary report must be released during an investigation. This report may also include safety warnings. The preliminary report is not subject to any criteria in terms of structure or scope. The content is partly dependent on the progress of the investigation and the need to report certain findings.
The preliminary report on the crash of MH17 being prepared by the Dutch Safety Board contains a number of facts based on various sources; allowing an initial, provisional sequence of events to be made. The investigation team collected information from various sources, such as the Cockpit Voice Recorder, the Flight Data Recorder, satellite and other images, and radar information. All the data is then compared to determine whether the various sources corroborate each other, or show a different view. This is a delicate and time-consuming process that has not yet been completed.
The draft versions of the preliminary report will be discussed by the international investigation team and with the Board prior to being published. The ICAO states that the normal period required for drawing up a preliminary report is 2-4 weeks, however justified exceptions are permitted. Given the particular and complex circumstances surrounding this occurence, it is not yet exactly clear when the preliminary report will be published.
7. Will the Dutch Safety Board be publicly releasing the content from the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder?
Investigative materials and sources of information used by the Dutch Safety Board in its investigations are protected by law. Only information relevant to determining the cause of the MH17 crash will be included in the final report. The available investigative information will not be released publicly in their entirety, except for what is published in the final report. This is in accordance with the Dutch Safety Board Act (Rijkswet Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid) and the ICAO agreement.
8. When will the final report be released?
An aviation accident investigation requires a lot of time. Not only is the investigation a complex, delicate and therefore time-consuming process involving various different parties, the Dutch Safety Board is also bound to international regulations that are set out in the ICAO agreement. One of these regulations prescribes that a draft of the final report must be presented for feedback to all parties which are formally involved. These parties then have sixty days to respond to the draft, after which the Dutch Safety Board must incorporate their feedback. The definitive report is expected to be published within one year.
9. What is the difference between the preliminary report and the final report?
The preliminary report provides an overview of the initial, provisional facts a relatively short time after the occurence. When the report is released, not all investigation data will have been analysed and no definitive conclusions drawn. Additional investigation data, an analysis and the conclusions based thereon will be included in the final report, making it far more extensive and in-depth.
10. Why does the Dutch Safety Board not issue any statements concerning guilt or liability?
In addition to providing a clear understanding of the cause, the aim of the Dutch Safety Board’s work is to increase safety. This is achieved by investigating the causes of an incident and – if possible – making recommendations to improve safety. This is set out as such in the ICAO agreement, which deals specifically with aviation investigations.
11. What is the ICAO and what is Annex 13?
Founded in 1947, the International Civil Aviation Organisation is a specialist UN organisation whose goal is to establish the principles and standards for international civil aviation for the improvement of aviation. Among other things, the ICAO agreement prescribes how aviation accidents must be investigated, and that the purpose of such investigations must be to improve safety and not to apportion blame or establish liability. Annex 13 (one section of the agreement) describes how investigations into aviation incidents should be conducted, the criteria that the report must satisfy, and which countries need to be involved.