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How Dutch investigators traced the MH17 missile back to its source

Dutch investigators say evidence from the blast that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 points to a Russian-built missile. Judy Woodruff discusses the findings with Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We look at some of the details of today's findings with a longtime investigator. Peter Goelz is a former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. He oversaw the investigation, among others, of TWA Flight 800 that crashed off Long Island almost 20 years ago and speculation then of whether a missile brought it down.

    Peter Goelz, welcome back to the program.

    How good a job did this international team do, do you think, of piecing together what caused this crash?

  • PETER GOELZ, Former Managing Director, NTSB:

    I think they did an extraordinary job. I read the report late last night and this morning. It's almost 300 pages in length. It is detailed. It is factual. And it's very sober.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, among other things, I'm struck by how it describes pieces of shrapnel from this missile, paint from the missile embedded in the bodies of the crew and people who were sitting in the front of the plane. Does it leave any doubt of the kind of missile that hit right at the — what they said, a meter from the plane?

  • PETER GOELZ:

    Yes, no, there's no doubt about the type of missile or where it struck.

    I mean, when a missile detonates in that proximity to the aircraft, it leaves very distinctive marks, as you can see, on the nose of the aircraft. And these holes, these hundreds of holes, they have microscopic bits of the metal, of the piece of shrapnel sometimes in the hole. And you can trace it back to the source.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we heard the Dutch investigator call it the 9N314 missile. What does it tell you, Peter Goelz, that is a missile that blew up just outside the plane? It didn't hit the plane. It blew up before it struck the plane.

  • PETER GOELZ:

    Now, the more recent missiles have what they call proximity fuses. And they are driven by radar. It senses when they're in close proximity to their target and they explode and disperse the shrapnel in a very defined way.

    We did tests in 1997 at the China Lake Missile Center in which the U.S., we detonated warheads near pieces of aircraft skin, the metal, the aluminum. And we saw the very distinctive patterns that they left. So the investigators knew what they were looking for and knew what they had when they found it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It is possible to say one side or another would have had this kind of missile? We know the Russians are saying, no, we don't have this missile in our arsenal anymore; the Ukrainians were using this.

  • PETER GOELZ:

    Well, I think that the investigators that I have spoken to who were involved in this time-consuming effort have indicated that there is other information available from intelligence sources that indicate where this missile was launched from, and that it's very clear that it was well inside the separatist territory.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So is it possible, do you think it will eventually be possible to say this was the source, this is who fired that missile?

  • PETER GOELZ:

    Yes, I think the truth comes out.

    After KAL 007 was shot down off the Soviet Union, it took years, and it took years of activism on the part of family members, but eventually the Russians admitted what happened. I think it will take time, but the truth will come out in this case as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And one other thing, the discussion today about whether this plane, passenger plane should have been flying over an area of conflict?

  • PETER GOELZ:

    That is probably the most important recommendation that the Dutch made. You know, that day, there had been almost 150 aircraft traveling along that airway, the same one that Malaysia…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Passenger planes.

  • PETER GOELZ:

    That's right. These are passengers planes.

    And what they said was that there was very poor coordination between the civil aviation authorities and the government, and the governments at play, and that they probably shouldn't have been there in that area of conflict, because planes at lower altitudes, mind you, had been being shot down, that greater attention has to be paid to the safety of the airways.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Peter Goelz, we thank you very much.

  • PETER GOELZ:

    Thank you.

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