The Wall Street Journal

Map of a Tragedy:
How MH17 Came Apart Over Ukraine

The Wall Street Journal cataloged and mapped some of the debris of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which fell across three Ukrainian villages after the Boeing 777 was brought down on July 17, allegedly by a surface-to-air missile.

Read the related story »

Reporting by Jon Ostrower in Washington, D.C., Alexander Kolyandr, Margaret Coker and Paul Sonne in Ukraine
Interactive by Stuart A. Thompson / The Wall Street Journal

Renée Rigdon/The Wall Street Journal

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The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has been extraordinarily public. Investigators of aircraft accidents typically cordon off the scene immediately after a crash, and tightly control access for media and others to avoid disturbing the debris.

Because Flight 17 fell in a war zone —across farm fields and homes near where pro-Russia separatists are fighting the Ukraine government — control of the wreckage has been chaotic, and the comparatively sanitized photos typically released by aviation safety officials have been replaced by thousands of images distributed across wire services and social media.

Mapping that wreckage is intended to illustrate how Flight 17 may have come down and the geographical challenges of conducting an investigation in a war zone.



DigitalGlobe via Reuters, annotations by The Wall Street Journal

1. Vertical Tail

The jet’s vertical tail with the Malaysia Airlines logo lies just down the road from the aft fuselage section to which it was once attached.

Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

2. Aft Fuselage and Horizontal Tail Structure

One of the most intact pieces of Flight 17 is a portion of the aft fuselage of the Boeing 777. This rear part, which attaches to the rest of the jet’s body behind the passenger cabin, landed upside down next to a road in Hrabove, near what was left of the connection between the jet’s horizontal tail, a wing on the tail that points the nose. One of the carbon-fiber-composite horizontal tails was severed and found roughly 1,200 feet away in a grazing field.


3. Center Structure

The single largest and most concentrated debris field is along a roadside in Hrabove, more than five miles east of the western edge of the documented debris field. The underside of the wings is visible in the wreckage, identifiable by access holes used by manufacturing and maintenance crews to work inside the fuel tanks. In the charred debris field are parts of both of the jet’s Rolls-Royce engines and a major structure called the center wing box that connects both wings to the fuselage and the well that holds the main landing gear. The landing gear was tucked inside the jet when it was cruising at 33,000 feet.

Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

4. Right Rear Door Frame

A cattle pasture in Hrabove is littered with pieces of the jet’s fuselage skin. A part of the right side of the rear passenger cabin at the last set of the jet’s doors sits mangled, its door missing. The skin shows the identity of the Boeing 777, with the Malaysian registration 9M-MRD.


5. Left Wingtip

The remains of the left wingtip, with visible signs of what appear to be shrapnel or puncture damage, sits severed from the rest of the wings, which fell and burned more than a half mile away.

Jeroen Akkermans/RTL-4 Nieuws/Netherlands

6. Horizontal Tail

The carbon-fiber-composite horizontal tail landed a few feet away from the remains of the wingtip near a small pond. Partially covered in mud, the tail was pulled from the nearby pond, according to one photographer.

Jeroen Akkermans/RTL-4 Nieuws/Netherlands

7. Cargo Door Frame

Scattered pieces of the rear fuselage, like this one around the aft cargo bay, litter a field in Hrabove a half-mile from the largest concentration of debris containing the charred remains of the jet’s center structure and wings.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

8. Crew Rest Bunks

On long-range flights like those connecting Southeast Asia to Europe, cabin crews use rest bunks to work in shifts. Malaysia Airlines installed its berths underneath the floor of the 777 at the front of the rear cargo bay. The under-floor bunks and their contents landed in a field about 1,800 feet from the main debris site in Hrabove.

Alexander Kolyandr/The Wall Street Journal


Google, annotations by The Wall Street Journal

9. Cockpit and Lower Nose

The Boeing 777’s cockpit and lower nose section landed in a sunflower field in Rozsypne, approximately 1.6 miles from the cargo floor section to which it was once attached and nearly four miles from Hrabove. The remains of the flight deck, its floor, displays and pilot controls were strewn nearby. Personal effects from the passengers and crew litter the site. The jet’s avionics components and wiring from the under-floor electronics bay were crushed into the nose landing gear, which became separated while it was tucked up into the forward wheel well.

Rob Stothard/Getty Images


Google, annotations by The Wall Street Journal

10. Lower Forward Cargo Floor

The jet’s lower forward cargo floor landed nearly five miles from the main debris field in Hrabove on a side road in the town of Petropavlivka. Local residents collected debris littered across the neighborhood and deposited it on this section of the aircraft that was once part of the forward cargo bay. Bundles of wires, air ducting, the nose landing-gear bay door and even demolished drink carts now sit on top of the silver rollers that make up the lower belly of the Boeing 777.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

11. Overhead Bins

Indications of the jet’s pre-crash breakup are overhead bins that landed in the town of Petropavlivka, just under five miles from the center portion of the jet, where they were once installed. A passenger’s in-flight entertainment system screen is seen hanging from the ceiling, next to exit-door lighting that comes on in an emergency. These bins came from the left side in economy class, near the third of four sets of doors on the Boeing 777.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

12. Flight Deck Window Cutout

An early sign of what felled Flight 17 turned up in Petropavlivka, propped up against a concrete post in a small residential neighborhood. A white, red and blue piece of twisted aluminum that once made up the structure just underneath the captain’s side window of the flight deck is pocked with holes that resemble shrapnel damage.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

13. Left-Hand Door Two

Part of Flight 17’s fuselage used as the main boarding entryway on the left-hand side of the Boeing 777 landed in a cabbage patch. The area around the door frame structure wears the remnants of the airline’s branding at the second of four of the jet’s doors. The door on the right-hand side of the aircraft was found in a field around 0.4 miles away.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

14. Engine Pod Parts

Pieces of the under-wing pod that holds the right Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engine were found nearly 4.7 miles from Hrabove, where both engines were found. Photos of debris show the broken remains of the Rolls-Royce logo and indications of piercing damage.

Alexander Kolyandr/The Wall Street Journal

15. Overhead Bins

Other overhead bins were found sitting in a tree across from the Petropavlivka village hall. The Row 2 markings on the bins indicate they came from the business-class cabin.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

16. Right-Hand Door Two

The Malaysian flag adorns the mangled fuselage panel that was once the structure around the second of four doors, which remained in place on the right side of the 777 after the fall from 33,000 feet. The corresponding structure on the left-hand side of the aircraft was found in a garden about 0.4 miles away.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

17. Forward Fuselage Roof

The exact sequence of Flight 17’s fall to earth is still unclear, but the wide dispersal of debris across the three towns is indicative of a high-altitude breakup. A cluster of pieces of the jet’s forward fuselage roof landed in wheat fields in Petropavlivka around five miles from the end of the documented debris field.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

18. Upper Fuselage Skin

The violence of Flight 17’s destruction is evident in how it came to rest after its fall from 33,000 feet. The white-painted skin of the forward fuselage is pocked with what appear to be shrapnel holes. This piece, when installed on the aircraft, is just behind and above the pilot’s flight deck windows in the side or upper ceiling.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal

19. Forward Fuselage Wall

A large piece of the left side of the forward fuselage bearing Malaysia Airlines red, blue, white and gray colors landed near other forward fuselage pieces across wheat fields in Petropavlivka. The broken, outward-bent edges of the panel may be a key clue for the investigation, potentially indicative of an explosive decompression, which Ukrainian officials said occurred after Flight 17 was allegedly hit.

Paul Sonne/The Wall Street Journal
Ukraine Map Sources: Flightradar24; U.S. Embassy in Ukraine; Ukrainian Defense Ministry; staff reporting

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