Aviation Attorney Patrick Bailey: Finding the Truth About Malaysian Flight MH17 will be a Daunting Task

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Though officials in Ukraine and opposition military forces appear to be co-operating with officials investigating the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, Attorney Patrick Bailey says there is reason to be pessimistic when it comes to finding the truth.

The plane was clearly shot down but by who and for what purpose are questions that may linger long after the data recorders are analyzed

Multiple media sources, including this FOX News story from July 21, 2014, report that pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine have relinquished "black box" recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 ("Pro-Russian rebels hand over black boxes, release Malaysia Air victims' remains"). They have also turned over some of the remains of the victims of the catastrophe to Dutch and Malaysian officials.

As has been widely reported, the plane was en route to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia from the Netherlands and was flying at over 30,000 feet when it was felled on July 17. All 298 people on board were killed. The vast majority of the passengers were Dutch but citizens of at least nine countries were on board. Though Bailey is not personally representing any of the victims' families in this case thus far, he has been paying close attention to developments.

"There have been some positive developments in the last few days for the investigation," Bailey says. "But even under ideal circumstances a plane crash investigation is extremely complex. The fact that this region is being contested militarily only adds to the complexity."

Bailey's law firm, Bailey & Partners, represents clients in high-complexity aviation-business litigation, catastrophic personal injury lawsuits and aviation accident cases. The firm has been involved with numerous aviation-industry investigations over the last several decades and, Bailey argues, from an investigator's perspective, too much time has passed since the plane went down on the seventeenth of July. "Securing the crash site is vital. The weather, wild animals, and other influences can significantly disturb the evidence," Bailey says. "In most overland plane crash cases, investigators try to get on the scene immediately. Three, four, five days or more to get access to the scene? This is just unacceptable."

According to this July 21, 2014 USA TODAY report by Jessica Durando, "Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: What we know now," the separatists initially refused international investigators access to the site and relented only after several days of international pressure.

While civilian air tragedies caused by military intervention are rare, Bailey concedes "I wish I could say this is a unique situation. Unfortunately, the destruction of civilian airliners by military forces has been all too common in the last several decades. And political unrest and military conflicts always add more challenges for the families of the victims who want to know the truth."

The attorney alludes to an example in Libya in 1973 when the Israeli military fired on a civilian aircraft. He also mentions Korean Air Lines Flight 007 that was shot down in 1983 at the height of the Cold War. "In that instance," Bailey explains, "268 people were lost when a Soviet jet destroyed the plane after it veered into Russian airspace on its way from Anchorage to Seoul. It took until 1992 for the families to learn the complete truth. The political turmoil and aggression between the US and the USSR at the time added to the families' pain. Hopefully the same kinds of delays do not haunt the families of this recent Malaysian air tragedy. My suspicion, unfortunately, is that the truth will take a considerable amount of time to uncover."

Of course the investigation will continue into the exact reason for the catastrophe and who may have been responsible for the plane's demise. No one disputes that the plane was shot down. Why and exactly how it was shot down will be a subject of considerable scrutiny. Bailey argues "the voice data recorders are essential for the investigation but they will likely reveal very little. Most of us agree that mechanical failure or pilot error played no part in this. The plane was clearly shot down but by who and for what purpose are questions that may linger long after the data recorders are analyzed."

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Betsy Passarelli
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Bailey and Partners - Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorneys
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