It was just a matter of time before a civil plane was shot down in Ukraine’s SAM-infested airspace

In spite of the amount of aircraft shot down by the rebels, civil airliners flew through the SAM-infested airspace of Eastern Ukraine with the risk of being mistakenly hit. As happened to the Malaysian Boeing 777.

It’s not a secret separatists own several anti-aircraft systems that they manage to use quite effectively. This week alone, they have shot down two military aircraft (an An-26 cargo plane near Luhansk on Jul. 14 and a Su-25 attack jet near Amvrosievka on Jul. 16) and, most probably, a civilian plane: MH17, earlier today.

USA Today infographic

Indeed, the Boeing 777 with 295 people on board, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was mistakenly shot down by the pro-Russia militia, who aimed at the Malaysia Airlines flight believing it was an AN-26 or another Ukrainian aircraft, as confirmed by some posts, then deleted on social media.

An-26 by accident

Even though there are reports that Russians personnel is supporting Ukrainian separatists on the field, it is quite likely the militia have become more proficient with such weapons by simply using them rather frequently against Ukrainian Air Force aircraft.

Obviously, every weapon system requires training. Unless you don’t have time for training: in this case you may use launchers and make mistakes, as downing a civilian plane instead of a surveillance one.

Confident no missile could be aimed at civil flights at cruising level, Ukrainian authorities had closed the airspace between the ground and 32,000 feet prior to the Malaysia Airlines incident. Therefore, airliners were routed through Kiev’s dangerous airspace in spite of the threat posed by uncontrolled SAM launchers.

When a missile hit MH17 1,000 above the ceiling of the restricted airspace, proving no aircraft is immune to deadly surface-to-air-missiles, Ukrainian airspace was partially closed.

Too late.

With so many anti-aircraft systems on the loose, it was just a matter of time a civil plane was threatened or, much worse, downed.

As happened to MH17.


Image credit:;  USA Today, Reuters


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.



    when the Ukrainian military shot down a Russian civilian airliner in 2001, I could see shrapnel holes on the fuselage even on TV pictures.
    time there are no such holes… which to me indicates it wasn’t shot
    down or not with a Buk thing which, rather than hit them, explodes
    nearby and sprays targets with thousands of shrapnel bits.
    My guess
    at this time — it’s an old 16-year-old 777 falling apart in mid-air —
    essentially the same fate at its predecessor 777 MH370 of four months

    • Good grief. The S-200 that shot down the Russian plane has a warhead 4X the size of of a Buk – and you haven’t even seen 10% of the MH17 wreckage.

      777s don’t “fall apart in mid air”.

  2. What I am missing on the videos from the crashed airliner is the smoke trail whilst coming down. Whilst hitting the earth, yes there was an explosion and smoke. Should the BUK missile not have caused an explosion and thus a smoke trail of the plane falling out of the sky?

    • Yes an AA missile leaves a smoke trail also condensation trail no one seems to show one.

  3. While tweets seem to be the ultimate information source around here, have also a look at:

    10:21 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Autoridades de kiev, intentan hacer que pueda parecer un ataque de los pro-rusos

    “Kiev Authorities, trying to make it look like an attack by pro-Russians”

    10:24 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Ojo! Que puede ser un derribo B777 Malaysia Airlines en ukraine, 280 pasajeros

    “warning! It can be a downing, Malaysia Airlines B777 in ukraine, 280 passengers”

    10:25 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Cuidado! Kiev tiene lo que buscaba

    “Warning! Kiev have what they wanted”

    10:25 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Vuelven a tomar la torre de control en Kiev

    “[Miitary] has taken control of ATC in Kiev”

    10:27 – 17 de jul. de 2014 El avión B777 de Malaysia Airlines desapareció del radar, no hubo comunicación de ninguna anomalia, confirmado

    “The Malaysia Airlines B777 plane disappeared from the radar, there was no communication of any anomaly, confirmed”

    10:30 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Avión derribado, derribados, derribado no accidente

    “Plane shot down, shot down, shot down, no accident”

    10:31 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Kiev, tiene lo que buscaba, lo dije en los primeros tw, kiev es responsable @ActualidadRT

    “Kiev have what they wanted, I said in the first tw [Tweets], Kiev is responsible @ ActualidadRT”

    10:35 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Un accidente muy normal no es, no están amenazando en la misma torre del aeropuerto de kiev,

    “An accident that is not quite normal, they are threatening us in the same tower of Kiev airport”

    10:35 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Nos van a quitar, nuestros tlf y demás de un momento a otro

    “they will take from our phones and others stuff at any moment”

    10:38 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Antes de que me quiten el tlf o me rompan la cabeza, derribado por Kiev

    “Before They remove my phone or they break my head, shot down by Kiev”

    11:12 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Nosotros tenemos la
    confirmación. Avión derribado, la autoridad de kiev, ya tiene la
    información, derribado, estamos tranquilos ahora

    “We have confirmation. Plane downed, Kiev authorities already have the information, downed, we are calm now”

    11:13 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Que hace personal extranjero con autoridades de kiev en la torre? Recopilando toda la información

    “What are doing foreigners with kiev authorities in the tower? Gathering all the information”

    11:15 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Cuando sea posible sigo escribiendo

    “When possible I´ll keep writing”

    11:48 – 17 de jul. de 2014 El avión B 777 voló escoltado por 2 cazas de ukraine hasta minutos antes, de desaparecer de los radares,

    The B777 plane flew escorted by Ukraine jet fighter until 2 minutes before disappearing from the radar,

    11:54 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Sí las autoridades de
    kiev, quieren decir la verdad, esta recogido 2 cazas volaron muy cerca
    minutos antes , no lo derribo un caza

    “If kiev authorities want to tell the truth, It´s gathered, 2 jet
    fighters flew very close minutes before, wasn’t downed by a fighter”

    12:00 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Nada más desaparecer el avión B 777 de Malaysia Airlines la autoridad militar de kiev nos informo del derribo, como lo sabían?

    “Malaysia Airlines B777 plane just disappeared and Kiev military authority informed us of the downing, How they knew?”

    12:00 – 17 de jul. de 2014 A los 7:00 minutos se notificó el derribo, más tarde se tomó la torre nuestra con personal extranjero q siguen aquí

    “7:00 minutes after [plane
    disappeared], the downing was notified, later our tower was taken with
    foreigner staff, they still here ”

    12:01 – 17 de jul. de 2014 En los radares esta todo recogido, para los incrédulos, derribado por kiev, aquí lo sabemos y control aéreo militar también

    “all this is gathered in radars, to the unbelieving, shot down by kiev, here we know it and military air traffic control also”

    13:15 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Aquí los mandos militares manejan y admiten que militares a otras órdenes, pudieron ser, pero no, los pro-rusos

    “Here the military
    commanders are in control and admit that the military could be following
    other orders , but no, the pro-Russian”

    13:29 – 17 de jul. de 2014 El ministro del interior si conocía que, hacían los cazas en la zona, el ministro de defensa no, .

    “Interior Minister knew what the fighters were doing in the area, the defense minister didn’t.”

    13:31 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Militares confirman que fue ukraine, pero se sigue sin saber de donde vino la orden

    “Military confirm It was Ukraine, but still does not know where the order came from”

    13:36 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Hace dias lo dije aquí,
    militares de kiev querían alzarse contra el actual presidente, esto
    puede ser una forma, a las órdenes de timoshenko

    “Days ago I said here, kiev military wanted to rise against the
    current president, this may be a way, ordered by timoshenko [following
    timishenko orders]”

    13:38 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Los cazas volaron cerca del 777, hasta 3 minutos antes de desaparecer de los radares, solo 3 minutos

    “The fighters flew close to 777, up to 3 minutes before disappearing from the radar, just 3 minutes”

    13:43 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Se cierra el espacio aéreo

    “Airspace closed”

    13:45 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Se cierra el espacio aéreo, por miedo a más derribos

    “Airspace is closed, more downings feared”

    15:17 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Control militar entrega ahora mismo de forma oficial que el avión fue derribado por misil

    “military control now officially [say] the plane was shot down by missile”

    15:23 – 17 de jul. de 2014 El informe oficial firmado por las autoridades militares de control de kiev ya lo tiene el gobierno,,,, , derribado

    “Government has the official report signed by the control military authorities in Kiev,,,, [plane] shot down”

    15:26 – 17 de jul. de 2014 En el informe se indica
    de donde abría salido el misil, y se especifica que no proviene de las
    autodefensa en las zonas rebeldes

    “The report indicates where the missile had come out [from], and specified is not from the selfdefence in rebel areas”

    15:34 – 17 de jul. de 2014Los radares militares si recogieron los datos del misil lanzado al avión, los radares civiles no

    “Military radar collected data from missile fired to the plane, civilian radars didn’t”

    15:36 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Los altos mandos militares no ordenaron el lanzamiento del misil, ,,alguien se le fue la mano en nombre de ukraine

    “military high command did not gave the order to fire the missile, someone screw it ine the name of ukraine”

    15:38 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Para el que no lo sepa,
    digamos así, hay militares a las órdenes del ministro de defensa y
    militares a las órdenes del ministro del interior

    “For those who do not know,
    Let’s say, there are military under the orders of the defense minister
    and military under the orders of Interior Minister”

    15:38 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Los militares a las órdenes del ministro del interior conocían en cada momento lo que sucedió, .

    “The military under the orders of Interior Minister knew what happened all the time .”

    16:06 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Mandos militares aquí (ATC) torre de control, confirman que el misil es del ejercito de ukraine,

    “Military commanders here (ATC) control tower, confirm that the missile is from the ukranian army,”

    16:07 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Mandos militares que si lo sabían y otros mandos que no,

    “military commanders that knew it and others didn´t ,”

    16:08 – 17 de jul. de 2014 290 personas inocentes muertas, . Por una guerra inútil, donde el patriotismo se compra con dinero

    “290 dead innocent people. What a useless war, where patriotism is bought with money”

    16:09 – 17 de jul. de 2014 La forma de tomar la torre de control minutos después sabiendo todo los detalles, rápido nos hizo pensar que habían sido ellos

    “The way the control tower was taken minutes after & knowing all the details, made us think that they [made it]”

    16:10 – 17 de jul. de 2014 La cara de los militares que llegaron más tarde diciendo pero que habéis echo, no dejo dudas

    “The face of the soldiers who came later saying [what you just did], no chance for doubts”

    16:12 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Es tal la decadencia que
    los militares acompañados de extranjeros que llegaron primero nos
    llegaron a pedir que dijéramos su versión

    “Such is the decline that military who came first accompanied by foreigners came to us asking us to tell their version”

    16:13 – 17 de jul. de 2014 Nuestra respuesta, fue, estos radares no recogen el lanzamiento de misiles, los militares si, ya no quedaban dudas

    “Our response was, these radars do not collect the launching of missiles, the military ones does, there were no doubts”

    • I am quite sure it is truth, yet, Western public is going to accept Strelkov`s tweet as truth,and this one as fake – using method of wishful thinking

    • There are several things with this story which do not fit:
      1. Only Ukrainian citizens can be air-traffic controllers
      2. The plane was last guided from Dnipropetrovsk air traffic control, not Kyev. An ATC officer in Kyev would not be privy to such wealth of information

      3. No other news agency found the man, except for RT. Nobody wants the scoop?
      3. No one else has come forward – I assume there would be at least a few other whistleblowers with enough of a conscience to come forward, after 298 people have died

      • More attention please:
        1. Read article
        2. Read my first statement (from while up up to the comma)
        3. Repeat 1
        3. Got the idea? The same goes for idiot-tube, and other “sources of absolute truth”…

  4. People need to ask who benefits from this, if they genuinely want to find out who was responsible for it.

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