MOSCOW (AP) — Russian state television has released a satellite photograph that it claims shows that a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. But the U.S. government dismissed the report as preposterous and online commentators called the photo a fake.
All 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when it was shot down July 17 over a rebel-held area of Ukraine. Ukraine and the West have blamed the attack on Russia-backed rebels using a ground-to-air missile.
The photo released Friday by Russia's Channel One and Rossiya TV stations purportedly shows a Ukrainian fighter plane firing an air-to-air missile in the direction of the MH17. The channels said they got the photo from a Moscow-based organization, which had received it via email from man who identified himself as an aviation expert.
The U.S. State Department on Friday dismissed the Russian TV reports as yet another "preposterous" attempt by Moscow to "obfuscate the truth and ignore ultimate responsibility for the tragic downing of MH17." It renewed a call to Moscow and Russia-backed separatists to "grant unfettered access for international investigators to the crash site."
Several bloggers said the photograph is a forgery, citing a cloud pattern to prove the photo dates back to 2012, and several other details that seem incongruous.
Some saw the photo as a propaganda effort intended to deflect criticism over the tragedy that Russian President Vladimir Putin faces as he attends the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia.
Mark Solonin, a Russian author who is an engineer by training, said in his blog that both aircraft looked disproportionate to the landscape and concluded that their images were crudely edited into a satellite picture.
Others noted that the commercial airliner in the photo appears to be of a different type, a Boeing 767.
The Russian television stations stood by the report, saying their source was the Russian Union of Engineers, an obscure Moscow-based organization that had previously issued a report claiming that the Malaysian plane had been downed by Ukrainians. The organization's vice president, Ivan Andriyevsky, said in televised remarks that it received the image via email from a man who said he was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with 20 years of experience as an aviation expert.
Attempts to reach Andriyevsky by telephone and email on Saturday were unsuccessful.
Most of the victims of the MH17 crash were Dutch, and a preliminary report issued by Dutch crash investigators in September said the Malaysia Airlines plane was likely downed by multiple "high-energy objects," a finding aviation experts say is consistent with a missile strike.
Pro-Russian separatist rebels in Ukraine have always denied any involvement in shooting down the plane.
However just three hours before MH 17 was downed, The Associated Press reported the passage of a Buk M-1 missile system — a machine the size of a tank bearing four ground-to-air missiles — through the rebel-held town of Snizhne near the crash site.
A highly placed rebel officer told the AP in an interview after the disaster that the plane was shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane.
AP reporter Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.