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MH17 disaster: Victims ‘would have died pretty quick’ after blast

Investigators have found that 298 passengers and crew on board flight MH17 which was brought down by a Russian-made missile would have died very soon after it exploded, a grieving father has said.

Relatives have been briefed by the Dutch Safety Board about its findings into what happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur Boeing 777 last July.

Ten of those who died in the disaster over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine were British.

Barry Sweeney, whose 28-year-old son Liam was on board, told the BBC they were told a Russian-made Buk missile exploded, hitting the cockpit first, killing the pilots.

That would have caused disorientation and confusion in the rest of the plane, he said.

“Hopefully most people were unconscious by the time this happened and death would have occurred pretty quick,” he said.

“That is a comfort for 298 sets of relatives.”

Mr Sweeney’s son was travelling from Newcastle with his friend John Alder to watch their beloved Newcastle United play in a pre-season tour of New Zealand.

Mr Sweeney told the BBC that relatives wanted to know their loved ones had not suffered.

“We cannot be 100%, but we have to think that was the case,” he said.

He added: “I’m going to have to go away and think ‘Yes, Liam died instantly as (did) 297 other people’. If you think otherwise, it’s just going to hurt forever.”

He believed his son was “probably having a drink” as the plane flew high over Ukraine, and would have been excited to be visiting New Zealand and seeing the Lord of the Rings’ sets as well as watching the Magpies.

“It was the trip of a lifetime, unfortunately they didn’t get there,” Mr Sweeney said.

Relatives were told the missile could have been fired from a 320km area, he said.

The DSB report did not indicate who fired the rocket. That will be addressed by criminal investigators who will report back later.

A Russian state-controlled missile maker said its own investigation disagreed with the DSB findings.

Yan Novikov, head of Almaz-Antey, gave a news conference but did not specify what was in the report, and he did not say whether he had been given an advance look.

The DSB has focused on what caused the crash and the issue of flying over areas of conflict.

It also examined why Dutch relatives had to wait for up to four days for confirmation that their loved ones had died, and to what extent the passengers were conscious before the plane hit the ground.

The investigation was led by Holland because 196 of the victims were Dutch.

Relatives were informed in The Hague before a presentation was being made to the media at Gilze-Rijen air base in southern Holland.

A reconstruction of the sections of the plane that were critical to the investigation will be unveiled at the base, where much of the wreckage was taken for examination by crash investigators.

Officials drew an outline of the Boeing 777 on the floor of a hangar and placed some of the corresponding pieces of wreckage on top. This included part of the cockpit, the business class section, an engine and parts of the left wing.

Despite the difficulty in accessing the site due to fighting in the area, the black box flight recorders were recovered early on and were passed to the DSB after being inspected at the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) headquarters at Farnborough in Hampshire.

The reconstruction of the plane echoed the work done by the AAIB which gathered wreckage from Pan Am flight 103 after it exploded over Lockerbie in December 1988 and painstakingly rebuilt part of the fuselage at Farnborough as part of its investigation.

The MH17 disaster followed on from the disappearance in March last year of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 237 passengers on board.