Malaysia wants the ‘missing’ Ukrainian ATC tapes

KUALA LUMPUR: UKRAINE has denied that its State Security Service (SBU) had seized the air-to-ground transmission tapes between its air traffic controllers and Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on the day the jetliner was shot down.

Its ambassador to Malaysia Ihor Humennyi, in an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times, said that reports alleging that the SBU had seized the recordings had not been independently verified or confirmed by Kiev.

“There is no proof or any evidence that the tapes were confiscated by the SBU.

“I only read this in the newspapers.”

Almost immediately after the shootdown, several news agencies, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, carried reports saying that Ukraine’s SBU security service had confiscated recordings of conversations between Ukrainian air traffic control officers and the crew of the doomed airliner.

If indeed the SBU had not seized the tapes, then where are the air-to-ground communications tapes between MH17 and the ATC?

When asked this, Humennyi said he did not have the answers.

Asked if the tapes had been handed over to the investigators, Humennyi said: “We don’t have any information that it had not been given to the investigation team or that it was not received by the (team of international) investigators.

Humennyi said that if a formal request was made by Malaysia or the international investigation team, Ukraine would extend its cooperation. At one point, Humennyi seemed to question the significance of the ATC tapes, saying that “it is just the same as the flight
data and cockpit voice recorders”.

Aviation experts, however, point to the recordings as being another crucial layer of evidence in piecing together the events leading up to the point of missile impact with the airliner and the massive explosive decompression and airframe break-up that followed as the Boeing 777-200 plummeted 33,000 feet to the ground, killing all 298 passengers on board.

Equally puzzling is the international investigation team’s apparent snail’s pace at requesting for the tapes from Ukrainian ATC.

Three weeks into the tragedy and the Ukrainians have yet to receive any formal request for the tapes.

Yesterday, when asked, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said Malaysia would make a formal request for the ATC recordings.

However, he did not commit to a definite timeline.

On suggestions that MH17 was brought down by an air-to-air missile fired from an Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot and finished off with cannon fire from the fighter’s internally-mounted Gsh-301 30mm cannon, Humennyi said there’s a rational explanation.

“The bulletholes these theorists said came from the fighter could have come from any 30mm weapon used by the rebels.

“They could have come from their armoured combat vehicles after the MH17 hit the ground.”

Humennyi said that the 20km by 20km area of the crash site was safe.

“The area around the crash site is completely safe as of now.”

Humennyi’s statement contradicted the reports coming in from the Royal Malaysia Police detachment on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said yesterday that the police team, together with the Dutch and Australian experts had to exfiltrate their forward operating base in Solidar yesterday due to the deteriorating security situation there.

Khalid said the team would move out in stages before midnight, local time.

Humennyi said the pro-Russian rebels had broken the ceasefire agreement earlier when they refused to allow the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers to continue investigating the wreckage after they entered the crash zone.

“The crash area was under the control of the separatists.

“They were the ones who did not allow the investigators to resume their work.

“These rebels are saying we are shooting at them but who are the ones really doing the shooting?

“It is the actions of these rebels that do not allow us to resume our investigations as they have gone against the agreement,” he said.