BUNNIK, Netherlands (Reuters) – Investigators appealed to the public yesterday to assist in their probe into the downing of MalaysiaAirlines Flight 17 nearly four years ago over eastern Ukraine.
The airliner was shot down with a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014, with 298 people onboard, two-thirds of them Dutch, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists.
The Joint Investigation Team, comprising the authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine said it would give an update on its work but would not identify suspects.
The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile, killing all passengers and crew, who came from 17 countries, including 38 Australians.
Dutch prosecutors said in September 2016 that 100 people of interest had been identified in the investigation, while Australian and Malaysian officials expressed hope that suspects would be made public in 2017.
Indictments have yet to be released and the suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal.
In another related Malayian airline probe, a private search by a US firm for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in 2014 in one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries, will end on Tuesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke said yesterday.
Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
Malaysia agreed in January to pay Houston-based Ocean Infinity up to $70 million if it found the plane during a 90-day search in the southern Indian Ocean.
The hunt for the Boeing 777 was previously expected to end in June, as the 90-day agreement did not cover time taken for refuelling and resupplying search vessel Seabed Constructor.
However, Ocean Infinity had finished scouring its targeted search area in April and had requested an extension until May 29, Loke said.
“This morning I raised this (request) in Cabinet and we agreed to extend to May 29,” he told reporters in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital. Asked it that meant no further extensions, he said: “Yes.”
Newly elected Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had earlier said Malaysia would review and possibly end its agreement with Ocean Infinity, amid other moves to cut government spending.
Mahathir, 92, ousted the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, led by ex-premier and former protege Najib Razak, in a stunning election upset on May 9.
Loke, who was sworn in as minister on Monday, said the government would release a full report on the investigation into MH370’s disappearance after the offshore search was completed, but had not yet determined a date for the report’s release.
Voice 370, a group representing the relatives of those aboard the flight, had called on the new government to review all matters related to MH370, including “any possible falsification or elimination of records related to MH370 and its maintenance.”