MH17: the conspiracy files

The shooting down of MH17 was a major tragedy, but inevitably there are some who won’t let it lie. Some on the internet unable to except the obvious explanation (Russian separatists had been taking pot shots at planes for several days before) they have instead resorted to outlandish conspiracy theories instead. This is quite prevalent among Russian bloggers, but also oddly enough among many libertarians or UKIP types, for as I’ve noted before such fans of “liberty” have a nasty habit of admiring authoritarian dictators.

Anyway, one of their favourite conspiracy theories is that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian SU-25, which they say, shot it down by cannon fire. There “evidence” is lots of “bullet hole” like indentations within the fuselage of MH17…although what exactly the Ukrainians would have to gain by shooting down MH17 (other than to make the Russians feel bad)…and why they would dispatch a SU-25 ground attack aircraft when they’ve a large inventory of air superiority fighters and ground launched missiles (although probably none in the area at the time) is not fully explained by our intrepid internet sleuths.

Nor indeed do they address the fact that the SU-25 barely has sufficient top speed to keep up with a Boeing 777 in cruise, plus a service ceiling of only 7,000m (according to my copy of Jane’s combat aircraft (1995 ed.) data verified by Sukhoi’s own website) versus a 777’s cruising altitude of 11,000m. Also note that this assumes no weapons carried, as (according to Janes) the SU-25’s service ceiling drops to 5,000m with externally mounted weapons. As one aviation blogger discusses, this would make any interception of a 777 by an SU-25 extremely unlikely, if not impossible.

Also the main source of information for this amateur crash analysis is not coming from the official investigators, who would perform a complete forensic analysis of the entire aircraft first (where possible taking everything to a hangar and then meticulously rebuilding the plane) before releasing anything like this. Instead bloggers are relying on a handful of photo’s taken by journalists who visited the site. Such information does not give a complete picture and past experience (e.g. the downing of Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870) tells us it’s likely to lead to an incorrect conclusion.

And as MH370 proved, amateurs relying on the internet to solve an air crash seldom do a brilliant job.

Furthermore the main proponent of this “single fighter theory” is a retired German military “expert”…unfortunately what the pro-Putin bloggers don’t point out is that he served with the EAST German Army, i.e. the NVA the losers in the Cold war, known for their pro-Russian and pro-Communist sympathies…as well as driving badly built cars!

But what about the actual evidence? Well as one science blogger points out the damage pointing to “bullet holes” is only valid if you choose to look at some parts of the plane and then cover your eyes and ignore dents and indentations (often on the very same piece of wreckage!) that look like those caused by a continuous rod warhead, the sort commonly used by anti-aircraft missiles. Such warheads detonate at a stand-off distance and shower the target with shrapnel, some of which would like bullet holes, but the rest consisting of rip’s and scars of various shapes and sizes, which is what we see.

Furthermore air-to-air autocannon would not produce machine gun like bullet holes on a fuselage. Such weapons are very different from machine guns. They fire milk bottle sized shells packed with high explosives, which would blast fairly large holes (particularly on an unarmoured target like an airliner), and I mean holes big enough for you to get several fingers through if not your fist! The damage the pro-Putin camp point too are pin pricks by comparison. Again more than likely continuous rod damage…or the consequences of the aircraft breaking up as it fell and/or impact damage…or possibly rebels shooting at it in the hope of tapering with the evidence!

Furthermore, the SU-25, being a ground attack aircraft uses different ammunition, typically shorter range and heavier armour piercing rounds, as its main combat role is tank busting and/or close air support (hence its low speed and lower service ceiling). It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible for an SU-25 to hit MH17 from its flight level and again the damage would have been all too obvious.

In short any meaningful examination of the (admittedly incomplete) evidence leads one to the opposite conclusion of the conspiracy theorist’s – that MH17 was probably downed by a missile. And as another science blog discusses, given the extent of the damage and the nature of how the aircraft crashed, it’s probable that it was a ground launched missile with a larger warhead, as cannon fire or an Air-to-Air missile is not consistent either with the damage observed on the wreckage, nor the nature of how the aircraft crashed.

So why do these bloggers do it? Why work so hard denying the obvious, while offending the memory of the many innocents killed in this atrocity? A few months back I discussed why those on the right deny climate change, often relying on similarly dubious half-baked and amateurish fantasy, because they have too.

The minute we accept that the planet is warming due to human activity then, regardless of whether you favour the more free market orientated solutions or centrally planned ideas, such a global problem requires a global agreement of some kind. And that means we need some sort of “authority” to negotiate that on our behalf (which we’ll call “the government”), as well as international institutions such as the UN or the EU to help broker and then administer such a deal. Which is a bit of a body blow to anyone seeking to “shrink the government down and drown it in the bath tub“…as the result is likely to be the drowning of whole cities or states!

Similarly the minute you accept that MH17 was downed by pro-Putin rebels (if not the Russians themselves) you also have to acknowledge that it creates a compelling case for the EU, as there is no way the individual European states could oppose Putin if they acted individually, at least as far as political or economic measures are concerned. Indeed in the absence of an EU, the only option left would be to use NATO and its large arsenal of weapons to confront Putin. So in short if Farage had his way and there was no EU, we would probably now be in the middle of a super power stand-off with Russia.

So unable to accept this reality, many on the right instead choose to engage in gold medal winning feats of mental gymnastics, as to do otherwise would be to confront the short comings in their own political philosophy.

2 thoughts on “MH17: the conspiracy files

  1. I don’t think any of us know the facts until the details of the investigation come out.

    If countries stopped playing geopolitical and financial wargames then these accidents would be less frequent.

    How do we stop uk govt selling weapons to Israel – more people have been killed in Gaza than in that Plane crash and are we are not sanctioning the US govt.

    The Kiev govt is also killing alot of its own citizens in East Ukraine and it is hardly reported on BBC.

    See Aljazeera news for sometimes more objective and inclusive world reports.

    I think the blogging propaganda is just all about invoking misinformation on all sides.

    Who knows the Queen may really be a reptile! And …Farage well he couldn’t handle a pint in Edinburgh I recall


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