The tragedy of Malaysia Airlines MH17 grows more complex and deeper by the day. Families await news of loved ones and authorities await answers. All the while the fighting grows fiercer in the eastern Ukraine.
Caught in the crossfire are the shattered remains of the Boeing 777, its occupants and its evidence. Not only is the battlefront preventing investigators from visiting the site, but the nature of warfare threatens to pulverise what few clues may remain. It is like detonating a crime scene before the forensic team starts looking for a fingerprint.
The investigators can piece together the documented evidence preceding the crash such as the aircraft’s maintenance history and the crew’s flight and duty times. They can even reconstruct scenarios from Air Traffic Control data and review the weather at the time. Thankfully the ‘black boxes’ have been recovered and contain the cockpit voice recordings and flight data and hopefully they will be able to shed some further detail on the loss of the airliner.
However, the hard evidence that comes from examining airframes and powerplants are currently out of the question. Not to mention the emotional, heart-wrenching issue of recovering passengers’ remains. Some of the pieces to this puzzle are likely never to be found and lingering questions are not healthy in aviation.
In the case of MH17, a great deal of supporting evidence indicates a missile bringing down the airliner. But what if this hadn’t been the case? What if another airliner had fallen from the skies and there were no immediate answers? No missiles, no radar plots, no intercepted communications. Simply an aircraft tragedy of unexplained cause. Thousands upon thousands of lives would continue taking to the skies every day while the answers remained unobtainable on a battle-field.
For aviation safety to continue to advance, tragedies need to be analysed and solutions found. To prevent the opportunity for this to occur is a travesty on a global scale. It is not about assigning guilt or pointing fingers, but making the skies safer. Who knows, maybe one of the General’s in the field will have his own family flying home, well away from the battle. Yet, without the answers air investigators need, their lives may also be in harm’s way.