On July 17th Russia Today published its documentary “MH17: a year without truth“. In this video the younger and older sister of captain Wan Amran were interviewed. The younger sister tells the interviewer that she identified her brother at Hilversum (where all the victims’ bodies were investigated) and brought the body home to Malaysia.
She tells that she was shown a full length photo of her brother and she was able to identify him. His body wasn’t damaged, only slightly burned. The older sister then tells that on arrival in Malaysia the government allowed no one to open the coffins.
This statement has been used by several people to suggest that there has not been any shrapnel damage on the pilot in charge. After the Dutch Safety Board final report was published John Helmer writes:
They, the DSB has concluded, “sustained multiple fatal injuries associated with the impact of metal fragments moving at high velocity”. The DSB report says there were “hundreds of metal fragments” in the Captain’s body; “over 120 objects (mostly metal fragments)” in the First Officer’s body; and “more than 100 objects” in the Purser’s body. This is new evidence. Earlier reporting of what Lailatul Masturah, sister of MH17 flight captain Wan Amran, said she saw of his body, and was told at the Hilversum Army base when his body was released to her, suggests nothing of the sort. Read her testimony here.
In an earlier post Helmer wrote the following:
As the JIT investigation progressed, however, the Malaysian pathologists who attended the identification process at Hilversum reported their concerns to their government. The sister of Captain Wan Amran, the pilot of MH17, who went to Hilversum to identify his body, said she had seen a film of his body and had been told by investigators there were no shrapnel or bullet wounds. The Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Fauziah Binti Nohd Taib, then issued a public complaint that Malaysian officials were “not sufficiently involved” in the Hilversum investigation. Press reports of what she said exactly have been removed from the internet. They were reported in Dutch several weeks later.
Both fragments seem to suggest that the captain in charge was not hit by shrapnel. In the second fragment cited there’s also the suggestion that this finding then led the Malyasian Ambassador to complain about the lack of involvement in the investigation. And also that her statement has been removed from the internet.
Helmer does not provide any sources on these statements. If he had, it would have been clear that the statement by the Malaysian Ambassador was made in a NOS Nieuwsuur broadcast on October 29th, 2014 (fragment on Ambassador starts at 18m45s). The complaint concerned the fact that Malaysia at the time was no member of the Joint Investigation Team and was only indirectly involved and informed. So, that statement had nothing to do with the story on the identification of captain Wan Amran in the RT documentary, published 9 months later. Also, news articles on her statement of that time can still be found.
Further on in the second cited post Helmer writes: “[…] the autopsy records ruled out one cause of death of the victims — the allegation that a Russian Buk missile had struck MH17.” Here he is referring to statements by two of the Australian pathologists and coronial court officers, who made public that the passengers of MH17 had not been hit by shrapnel. (The conference presentation by the Australian coroners, that Helmer refers to, can be found here.)
Now that the DSB report has been published we know this is correct, but Helmer’s conclusion there was no (Buk) missile fired at MH17 is unfounded, since their statements do not concern the crew present in the cockpit.
The main issue here is whether Wan Amran was indeed the captain in charge when MH17 was downed. As can be learnt from the DSB report there were two teams present on the flight, in accordance with Malaysia Airlines’ procedures for longer flights. The names of the cockpit crew members are not given in the report (and I will not give them here either, but they can easily be found), yet their ages are mentioned.
The case is that Wan Amran (49 years) was the captain of team B, which was to fly the second half of the flight. On the first half of the flight his colleague, aged 44 years, was the captain of team A, assisted by a first officer, aged 26 years. At the time MH17 was downed Wan Amran was most likely staying in the rest area, just like the other first officer, aged 29.
(It was the latter’s wife who gave a very moving speech at the MH17 memorial on July 17th, 2015, when she spoke the words her husband would have spoken to the passengers if they would have made the descent to Kuala Lumpur that day.)
Therefore: the bodies that were hit by shrapnel were those of the members of team A. On the internet a few pictures of one, possibly two members of team A have circulated. I will not publish these here, out of respect for the bereaved. However, I can state that these photos show loss of body parts and several entrance wounds, caused by shrapnel. There are no doubts whatsoever on the dreadful consequences of a missile exploding.
Of course Russia Today knew Wan Amran was not the captain in charge at the time of downing. The family interviewed will have provided this information, but it was left out on purpose by Russia Today. (The statement on coffins not allowed to being opened on behalf of the Malaysian government could also have been taken out of context – but I do not know that.)
Anyway, if John Helmer had read the DSB-report attentively and if he had done a little research he could have found out Wan Amran was not in charge at the time.
Instead, both Russia Today and John Helmer are just disinforming the public and twisting facts.
Helmer’s first cited article also produces some fog with regards to statements by the Australian Federal Police officers. Where Helmer suggests these statements contradict the DSB findings, in fact they only deal with a controverse on the question whether the Ukrainian State Emergency Services conducted their recovery work properly and respectfully, or not. (They did.) And they also deal with the question whether the cause of death of the passenger victims can be established umabiguously, or not. (It can not on an individual level).
The sources (here, here and here) he is referring to contain nothing that contradicts the DSB report.
Helmer may have a point regarding the conclusiveness of the evidence presented by the Dutch Safety Board in another recent post, but his method of arguing is not untainted, given the examples above, and therefore not convincing at all. His posts rest on one rhetorical trick, namely raising suspicion and thereby adding to confusion.
Postscript, November 4th 2015
In response to some of the questions or remarks in the comments to this post:
As for the presence of two teams of a captain and a first officer: on July 20th Malaysia Airlines published a list of the passengers and crew. That list literally mentions two captains and two first officers.
The crew names had been published already on the 17th e.g. here and here. So, John Helmer should have known there were two teams present and he might have asked himself whether Wan Amran was the one in command at the time of downing.
As to the remark whether it was knowable which team was flying at the time of the downing and which team was the relief crew: there are some sources, but not from official channels (as far as I know, but I haven’t checked sources in the Malay language). These sources, however are not all definitive on this issue but they have proved to be correct, e.g. here, here or here.
Russia Today, however, knew for sure who was flying! On October 22nd 2014 they released an earlier documentary, “MH-17: the untold story“, in which the wife of the 1st officer of team A was interviewed. At 4m17s it is stated that this 1st officer was to fly the first stage of the journey.
With regards to the statement that the Malaysian authorities did not allow the coffins to be opened: the remains of Wan Amran, as well as of the other captain and the 1st officer of team B, were repatriated to Malaysia on September 2nd, 2014. The plane carrying their remains and those of other victims landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 08:35 local time. Immediately after there was a ceremony, which was attended by PM Najib Razak. See also this report. After this the funeral of Wan Amran took place at 11:25 local time, at Shah Alam muslim cemetery, Selangor, which is located 45 km from the airport.
Islamic burial tradition prescribes that a funeral takes place ‘as soon as possible’, taking into account particular circumstances. In this case it may be probable that Malaysian authorities and/or imams insisted that the funeral took place following the ceremony and that there was no opportunity to open the coffins. But, this is no more than an assumption!
The conference presentation by two Australian coroners dealt with Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) process. As is stated in their presentation (slide 20): in case a CT scan of a body (part) showed suspicious foreign objects it was transferred to the forensic investigation, and if not it was to be part of the DVI investigation. So, John Helmer might have guessed that the bodies of those with missile impact traces would not be part of the DVI process, and hence was not to be addressed by the conference presentation.by