Earlier today, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed outside of Donetsk, Ukraine. Speculation as to whether the flight crashed or was shot down has already begun, and an investigation has been launched.
In order to better understand how the tragic crash might have occurred, The Wire spoke with aviation expert Bruce Rodger, President of Aero Consulting Experts.
Of particular interest in this case is the timing. One separatist noted the crash on social media almost two hours before the event. However, a plane only takes minutes to crash. "The time for it to fall out of the sky from its altitude, depending where it hits, the engine, the wing, it takes about three to five minutes," explains Rodger. "It all depends on the altitude and where the missile hits the plane. It could be the missile took out the airplane right away and it exploded right away."
As for an understanding of whether it was shot down or crashed, Rodgers says the proof is in the debris. "A plane that has been shot down, you would have pieces of debris over a wide area. An airplane that has been flown till impact with the ground, you would have the airplane there, about three or four football fields length of debris, vs. shot down, which is miles of debris."
While we may have more information soon, "it takes years to investigate a crash site," explains Rodger. "You may have all the pieces, have everything there, they have the black boxes, but it's still years before the final cause is determined." There have also images surfacing civilians at the crash site, particularly the photo of two children climbing a plane door. Rodger notes this could be detrimental to the investigation. "It is hazardous [that civilians are there,] but there is nothing really explosive. Airplanes are made with non-explosive material, however, they are tampering with wreckage that investigators need to get their hands on to determine what happened. It is messing with important parts of what happened, how it happened. It is all evidence."
In the meantime, flights will be taking alternative routes. Rodger explains, "All in all, airlines will deviated, which will cause delays, which will cause more fuel burn. It'll be an economic impact to airlines and time impact to passengers. Malaysia has lost two of its assets, plus all of the crew members; it has a major impact. It'll be very difficult. The crew loss, the financial loss, the perception."
As for the future of Malaysia Airlines, which has been hit with two major disasters in a matter of months, Rodger believes it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to recover.