Malaysia Airlines MH17: One Year Later – Closure or Chaos?

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Today, July 17th, 2015 marks the first anniversary of the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.MH17 CNN

The initial shock feelings evolved into anger about the reckless actions of the Ukrainian rebels accused of downing the plane, bringing the distant conflict closer to homes worldwide. Especially the families of the victims are still waiting for answers as even one year after not all facts have been made available to the public.

In fact, some things might be still unknown. Just this week a video surfaced showing soldiers immediately after the downing of the aircraft, going through the debris and personal belongings of the passengers. It is unbelievable footage with the participants seemingly very excited, if not shocked themselves that they shot down a civilian aircraft.

In the light of all these developments one can rightfully ask ‘Where do we stand?’ as far as the investigation and answers are concerned.

Official Report

An interim report report on the MH17 Incident has been released (which you can access here).

A recent article by The Guardian (access here) summarizes the findings of the investigating authorities

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 broke up in mid-air as a result of structural damage caused by “a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside”, according to the Dutch investigators’ preliminary report.

The report into the downing of the plane over eastern Ukraine does not apportion blame or say a missile was fired. But the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) says: “There are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew.”

One section of the article should make many people shiver who flew over more or less the same area during the time of the incident

The report shows how easily a different airliner could have met the fate of the doomed plane instead, had the crew of MH17 been able to comply with a controller’s request to fly higher in the minutes before it was shot down.

Air traffic controllers were attempting to clear traffic as three other commercial flights, unidentified in the report, were in the vicinity – two other Boeing 777s and one Airbus A330.

Compensation

One of the most frustrating aspects for the victims families must be the agonizing process of dealing with Malaysia Airlines in respect to the compensation.

According to a Daily Mail article (access here) Malaysia Airlines has provided an advance payment of 50,000 US$ to the family featured but is now seeking an additional avalanche of documentation in order to assess further compensation. Per Montreal Convention the airline is liable for 113,100 Special Drawing Rights (a mix of currency values established by the IMF) which equals ~ 157,000 US$.

The Australian family of MH17 victim Gabriele Lauschet have been asked by Malaysia Airlines to provide details of her tax returns, payslips and mortgage repayments before it will make a compensation payment.

Ms Lauschet’s son, Tim Lauschet, was astounded when the airline got in contact with him and claimed that he needed to support his claim for damages with a long list of paperwork, and believes his mother’s life should not be means tested.

Malaysia Airlines’ have paid Mr Lauschet a $50,000 advance payment, however, they have now asked him to provide nine documents to support his claim that there is a ‘loss of financial dependency upon his mother at the time of her death.’

Additional liability might be invoked and compensation sought through civil action if it can be proven that the air carrier has caused or contributed to the death of the passenger through negligence. Such a thing can be be more or less excluded in this case given the findings in the preliminary report.

However it was reported yesterday that a U.S. Lawyer filed a $900 Million USD lawsuit in Chicago against a Russian rebel commander under the name of Igor Girkin. (access The Independent article here).

A writ was filed in Chicago on Wednesday alleging that Igor Girkin, a military leader with Ukranian rebels in the east of the country, had the Russian government’s approval to fire on MH17 in July last year and “ordered, aided and/or abetted this action and/or conspired with those persons who fired the missile”. It seeks $900m in damages.

Lawyer Floyd Wisner told The Independent there was considerable publicly available evidence pointing to the involvement of Mr Girkin, better known as Commander Strelkov.

“I think it is very unlikely that we will see any money from him,” he said. “But the point of this lawsuit is not about money. It is an effort to try and shed some light on what happens.”

Malaysia Airlines

The airline, plagued by the disappearance of another aircraft flight MH370 (still unresolved) just months prior has since undergone massive restructuring and is, as per it’s new CEO Christoph Mueller ‘technically bankrupt‘.

Malaysia Airlines has already fired staff on a mass scale as part of their restructuring program (see LoyaltyLobby article here) and is expected to modify additional parts of their operations.

Conclusion

This was a terrible thing to happen and is one of these incidents that shocked people worldwide.

With time, additional and unfortunately gruesome details might be available to the public (for the better or the worse) but the published reports at least give some broad picture on the technicality of the disaster.

It would be fair and decent to bring closure to the victims families and finally settle their compensation claims. A $50,000 lump sum advance is not a lot for a family that lost a loved one who was the primary breadwinner on top of that.

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