Published On: Fri, Aug 7th, 2015

MH17 One Year On: Investigations and Families Looking for Justice

It has been over a year since the MH17 flight came down over Ukraine. Unlike MH370, we know what happened to the plane. But there are still many things that remain unresolved. The Malaysian Airlines flight was traveling from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur. It was shot down over Ukraine, killing 283 passengers and 15 crew members. A year later, much of the focus is on the families of the victims, who are left to cope with the tragic losses. There are ongoing investigations and theories into just what happened to the plane. But these families are still waiting for definitive answers.

Malaysian 777-200

Memorial Service

In July this year, a memorial service was held in Canberra, Australia to remember the victims. 38 of the people onboard the plane were Australian citizens or residents. The service was held on the anniversary of the incident. It took place in the Great Hall at Parliament House. The service was addressed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It was also attended by governor-general Peter Cosgrove and opposition leader Bill Shorten. An MH17 special envoy, Angus Houston, also spoke. Families lay floral wreaths during the service. Abbott said it was a chance to “restate our support for the families and honor the lives of their loved ones”. There have also been memorials held across Europe, including in the Netherlands. A competition is inviting young architects to design a memorial and park in Amsterdam.

About the Victims

The passengers and crew were a mix of nationalities, but the majority were Dutch. 193 people were from the Netherlands. Others hailed from Australia, Malaysia, the UK, Indonesia and several other countries. Among them were six delegates traveling to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Also on the flight were Dutch senator Willem Witteveen and Australian author Liam Davison. Malaysian actress Shuba Jay was also onboard. There were at least twenty families onboard, with 80 passengers under the age of 18. Families of the passengers and crew lost children, parents, and other relatives.

Investigation

Several investigations are taking place into what happened when the flight was shot down. Countries investigating the incident include Australia, Malaysia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine. However, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has called on the UN security council. She asked them to open an international criminal tribunal. The request has had support from the other countries investigating the incident. The Netherlands is leading two investigations. One of which is into the cause of the crash, while the other is criminal. The investigation is usually the responsibility of the country where it happened. But they are allowed to choose someone else to oversee it. Ukraine has delegated its leadership to the Netherlands.

The off-site investigation team has 24 members representing a range of countries. They include Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, Germany and the United States. There have also been attempts to examine the crash site, which began in late July 2014. However, the investigators had to leave the area in August. They were concerned about their safety. They tried to start investigating again in September but were unsuccessful. Fortunately, they managed to begin their work again in October. They began to recover the victims’ personal belongings.

Current Theories

The plane came down in Ukraine during a battle in Shakhtarsk Raion, which was part of a war in Donbass. This area is controlled by the Donbass People’s Militia. They have been fighting against the Ukrainian government. The government pointed the finger at this group, suggesting they were responsible for the crash. The leader of the group, Igor Girkin claimed that they had taken down a plane. But he later denied any involvement. Both American and German intelligence suggested pro-Russian insurgents were the ones responsible. Ukrainian and American sources both decided that a missile shot from the ground was the most likely cause of the incident.

Looking for Compensation

The victims’ families and the rest of the world are waiting for the outcome of the investigation. Meanwhile, the families are still dealing with the aftermath of losing their loved ones. Recently, the first legal action has been initiated in relation to the case. Tim Lauschet’s mother Gabriele died in the crash. He filed papers in Australia’s Supreme Court in July. Working with LHD Lawyers, Lauschet is suing Malaysia Airlines over the flight. The legal claim states that Mr. Lauschet has had to leave his job after his mother’s death. He also had to sell the family home as a consequence. He had received US$50,000 in compensation. But the legal papers argue that all families of the victims should receive $113,100 under international law.

International aviation lawyer Jerry Skinner has been representing Mr. Lauschet. He also provides representation for several other victims from Australia, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Earlier this year, he suggested that the financial documents Lauschet had been asked for as were inappropriate. He said that initial compensation payments shouldn’t be means tested. This is in accordance with the Montreal Convention, he said. After attempts to discuss this with Malaysia Airlines, the law firm’s questions went unanswered. Lauschet said that due to this, he had no choice but to take legal action. The Malaysian Transport Ministry spoke about compensation in March this year. They said only four families were prepared to accept a final compensation amount.

There have also been attempts to receive compensation from other bodies involved. A woman from Germany lost her daughter Olga L. on MH17. She is suing the Ukrainian authorities at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). She is looking for compensation from Kiev for manslaughter by negligence. She began proceedings in November last year. The legal papers state that Ukraine should have closed its airspace to civil flights. Aviation lawyer Elmar Giemulla is representing three German victims of the crash.

It could be months before we know anything more about what happened to flight MH17. Many of the victims families are still hoping for the prosecution of those responsible. However, in the meantime, the battle to gain compensation for the tragedy continues.