Experts have reportedly confirmed the first hard evidence that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine.
A photograph published in the Financial Times appears to show a piece of the Boeing 777 passenger jet with a large hole and apparent burn marks.
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Defence analysts and a former military pilot believe that the damage seen in the photograph, taken in Pertopavlovka, is consistent with a missile strike.
“The size of the shrapnel holes is consistent with what one might expect to see from an SA-11 hit," said Justin Bronk, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
"However, it is difficult to assess the total blast pattern with such a small fragment of fuselage.”
Douglas Barrie, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the evidence "was consistent with the kind of damage you would expect to see from the detonation of a high explosive fragmentation warhead of the type commonly used in a SAM system”.
A former Royal Air Force officer said that it appeared the missile exploded to the front-left of the aircraft, sending a cloud of red hot metal into the plane.
Crash experts stand by to help
Australia stands ready to send scores of crime scene investigators, victim identification experts and security personnel to the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine in response to a critical vote by the United Nations Security Council overnight.
Amid mounting concern that Russian-backed rebels were destroying crucial evidence, Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to seven world leaders to win support for an independent international investigation into the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane that killed 298 people, including at least 39 Australians.
An Australian-sponsored resolution to the UN Security Council calling for full and unfettered access to the crash site was expected to be considered in New York at 3am Perth time.
If the resolution is successful, an Australian team led by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston will go to the site to recover, identify and repatriate Australians killed in the July 17 crash.
"Our determination is to ensure that there is justice for the dead, and closure as far as is humanly possible for the living," Mr Abbott said yesterday.
It is understood Ukraine or the Netherlands, which lost 192 people, would lead the investigation with Australia's assistance.
There are 45 Australian officials either in Kiev or on their way there, including 20 consular and diplomatic staff, 20 Federal police, including victim identification experts, three Defence Force personnel and two air crash investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
An RAAF C-17 transport plane is on stand-by to go to Ukraine for logistical and specialist support. It may also bring home the dead.
_The West Australian_ has been told Australian troops would likely be sent to Ukraine if there was agreement for a multinational force to secure the area.
Pressure is mounting on Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence on rebel forces to allow proper access to the site, which Mr Abbott said looked "more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation".
Mr Abbott spoke to Mr Putin at 1am Perth time yesterday between calls to the leaders of Malaysia, Germany, Britain, France, Ukraine and the US.
The Prime Minister said Mr Putin had said "all the right things" but that he now had to be "as good as his word".
"Both sides stressed the importance to the completion of the investigation to avoid politicised statements in connection with the tragedy," the Kremlin said.
Mr Abbott was chastised by the Russian foreign ministry at the weekend for assigning guilt to Moscow "without bothering himself about evidence".
But Mr Abbott yesterday did not retreat from his comments, saying the mood among world leaders was "firmer and sterner" now than in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
"There is no doubt that at the moment the site is under the control of the Russian-backed rebels and given the almost certain culpability of the Russian-backed rebels in the downing of the aircraft, having those people in control of the site is a little like leaving criminals in control of a crime scene," he said.