Anyone who has stayed up late watching marathons of disaster shows knows at least one thing about air crashes. Whether the culprit is terrible weather as in Air France Flight 447, a catastrophic technical failure like American Airlines Flight 191, or a terrorist bomb as destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, the scene of the crash is always secured by investigators as they determine first and foremost if they're dealing with a horrific accident or a crime scene.
As the pictures of the horrifying scene of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 flooded news feeds and social media, the most disturbing have already confirmed a few vital clues. We know from radar reports that there is virtually no doubt that a missile struck the plane carrying nearly 300 innocent people. The photos and videos across Live Leak for those who can stomach such horror, confirm that the airliner fell apart in the sky and the victims, men women and children littered among the debris, some with hardly a scratch on them - fell to earth.
Cor Pan made a tragically prophetic facebook post before boarding the
doomed MH-17: "If the plane disappears, this is what it looks like."
In the United States, The National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for securing and investigating these types of disasters. Within hours, the NTSB dispatches emergency workers to begin the task of coordinating the recovery of bodies, preserving every tiny fragment of debris, and liaising with the FBI if there's reason to believe foul play. Each step is crucial in making sense of what has happened and ensuring everything can be learned to prevent the same tragedy from reoccurring. In this case, the Ukrainian government and the Malaysian Transport Minister are trying to gain access to the site for an internationally-led investigation.
Compounding the tragedy in the Ukraine is that MH-17 and the 298 people who lost their lives were not only innocent bystanders, their remains and all evidence of what exactly happened are at the mercy of warlords and militiamen collaborating with the Russian government. Instead of securing the site, cellphone video and pictures of the scene show anyone from armed combatants to civilians in their summer clothes, pouring over the wreckage, looting passengers' belongings, absconding with pieces of debris as macabre souvenirs.
Their is no recovery of evidence, only a haphazardly, uncoordinated mess as bodies, after having been left in the field, are being taken to various small villages near the crash site. Meanwhile Russian Separatists are carting wreckage off to god knows where. The Associated press has reported that despite pleas from the Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, US President Barack Obama, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that access to the site has been not only hampered, but critically mishandled before investigative efforts:
An international delegation visited the crash site Friday evening but was only allowed to view one small portion. While the delegation was leaving under orders from armed rebel overseers, two Ukrainian members lingered to look at a fragment of the plane, prompting a militiaman to fire a warning shot in the air with his Kalashnikov.
During past investigations by the NTSB, there have been monumental challenges to collecting evidence such as the crash of Value Jet Flight 592 which plunged into the Florida Everglades. In that case, the DC-9 was obliterated and completely obscured from site beneath a remote, alligator infested swamp. The recovery of even the tiniest fragments, and of course the flight data and voice recorders, helped investigators piece together the jigsaw puzzle from which emerged a picture of flammable cargo improperly stowed in the cargo hold having ignited and doomed the jet.
For Flight MH-17, whose flight data recorder has already possibly been absconded by people unknown, uncovering the full picture of what happened and who is ultimately culpable may not be possible from the now desecrated evidence. Radar reports of a missile launched from specific longitude and latitude may still provide the smoking gun and from which a coordinated response from the international community will be paramount to ensure the passengers of MH-17 did not die in vain. Tragically for now, those responsible have been doing their best to mitigate the search for truth while depriving the victim's families of any closure they could take from such senseless act of mass murder.