A video of the doomed MH17 Malaysia Airlines flight, showing just how close it came to hitting villager's homes in eastern Ukraine, has emerged four months after the plane was shot down over the rebel-hel region.
The amateur footage, perhaps the first taken immediately after the plane came down was filmed by a resident of Hrabove, and shows people reacting in alarm as wreckage blazes only a few metres away from their homes on the afternoon of July 17.
The ultimate cause of the MH17 disaster is the subject of major diplomatic disputes. Ukraine and Western government say Russia-backed separatist fighters fired the rockets that felled the plane, while state-run television in Moscow over the weekend produced evidence it claims places blame with Ukraine's air force.
All 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when it was shot down over a rebel-held area. Charred remains of the aircraft are scattered around fields over an area of 20 square kilometers.
Workers on Sunday began collecting debris from the crash site, under the supervision of Dutch investigators and officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The recovered fragments will be loaded onto trains and taken to the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv. The investigation into what happened to MH17 is being conducted there and in the Netherlands.
The recovery operations have been delayed amid continued fighting between government troops and separatist fighters. A truce was agreed in September, but hostilities have raged on nonetheless.
In the video obtained on Sunday by the Associated Press, residents of the village of Hrabove can be heard asking about the whereabouts of the pilot. This is significant because multiple Ukrainian military planes had been shot down by this time, and their pilots and crew regularly taken prisoner by rebel forces.
Three days before the MH17 was brought down, rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down an Antonov-24 military transport plane.
The downing of MH17 stunned Ukrainian defense officials. They argued that the aircraft must have been targeted by Russian fighter jets, as it was flying at an altitude of 21,300 feet, far beyond the reach of the Igla portable surface-to-air missiles then being used by rebel fighters. The plane was flying at 33,000 feet when it was hit.
On the day after the Antonov-24 was downed, the Moscow-based LifeNews television channel broadcast the questioning by rebels of a man identified as the Ukrainian plane's pilot.
The afternoon that MH17 was brought down, LifeNews reported unnamed rebel sources as saying another Ukrainian transport plane has been downed. Other pro-Kremlin media issued similar reports. They quickly dropped that account as it became evident that a civilian aircraft had in fact been brought down.
The reaction of villagers in the new video suggests their immediate assessment too was that another Ukrainian plane had been struck. One person can be heard to say: "And where is the pilot?" Another person answers: "Who the hell knows?"
In another exchange, a person is heard questioning whether more than one plane had crashed, since there was so much debris. People around him quickly correct him to say only one aircraft had come down.
The account favored by most Western government is that the plane was brought down by an SA-11 missile launcher — also known as a Buk —fired by rebels. U.S. government officials have said the Russians might have provided technical help to the rebels to operate the system.
The separatists have denied any involvement in shooting down the plane.
But just three hours before MH17 was downed, a Buk missile was spotted passing through the rebel-held town of Snizhne near where the plane was downed. A highly placed rebel officer told AP that the plane had been shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane.
Moscow has vehemently denied it has provided any military hardware to rebel forces, and since the Malaysia Airlines incident has advanced several alternative theories about the plane's fate.
Over the weekend, Russian state television released a satellite photograph it claims shows that a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down MH17. The photo released 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 plane. The channels said they got the photo from a Moscow-based organization, which had received it via email from a man who identified himself as an aviation expert.
But several bloggers said the photograph was a forgery, citing a cloud pattern to prove the photo dates back to 2012, and several other details that seem incongruous.