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British Aviation Expert Says Russian MH17 Claims Highly Unlikely

Russian defense officials sit in front of a map of air-defense locations in the area of Donetsk during a briefing by Russian Lieutenant General Andrei Kartopolov and Lieutenant General Igor Makushev in Moscow on July 21 to present Moscow's view of the MH17 downing.

According to a British aviation expert, Russian charges that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet may have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are "fairly incredible."

"Loaded with missiles and bombs, [the Su-25's] maximum altitude is five kilometers," says David Gleave, an aviation and safety researcher at Loughborough University. "We know that MH17 was flying at 10 kilometers high."

At a July 21 press conference -- held amid mounting evidence that MH17 had been shot down by a Buk missile fired by pro-Russian separatists -- members of Russia's general staff claimed that an Su-25 with air-to-air missiles had been detected within three to five kilometers of the doomed plane.

Gleave, a former accident investigator, says it is conceivable, although extremely unlikely, that the alleged fighter jet could have attempted a maneuver in which it nose-dived and then flipped skyward to shoot the missile from more than three kilometers below the Malaysian airliner.

Moscow had claimed that the Su-25 was flying at the same altitude as Flight 17.

Stranger about the Russian claims, though, is that Ukraine does have Su-27 fighter jets in its arsenal -- a series that would have been capable of flying at altitude with MH17.

"[For the Russians to say] that [the Ukrainians] would use the Frogfoot" -- NATO's term for the Su-25 -- "is a particularly bizarre choice of airplane because it's purposely designed to fly at very low levels and be agile down there," Gleave said.

On July 22, the U.S. government released a satellite photo that it said showed the trajectory of the Buk missile pro-Russian separatists allegedly fired from the ground to shoot down MH17.

Gleave says that pictures he has seen from the crash site -- which show indents on the exterior of the plane -- appear to indicate a strike from a missile.

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    Glenn Kates

    Glenn Kates is the former managing editor for digital at Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He now reports for RFE/RL as a freelancer.