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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainian Court Decides Missile Not Behind Crash

KIEV -- Russian investigators failed to prove that a Ukrainian missile brought down a Sibir passenger jet in October 2001, a Ukrainian court said Tuesday in upholding an earlier court ruling.

Four Israeli families had filed the lawsuit seeking compensation after the crash of the Tu-154 jet belonging to Sibir, now called S7, while it was flying from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk. The plane went down in the Black Sea, killing all 66 passengers and 12 crew members aboard.

Investigators from the Interstate Aviation Committee, a Moscow-led air safety group linking 12 former Soviet republics, later determined that the plane had been unintentionally shot down by a missile fired by Ukrainian forces during military exercises on the Crimean Peninsula.

But Kiev's Appeals Court rejected the Israeli families' appeal, upholding a lower court's January ruling that the agency's findings did not support its determination.

The plane was carrying mostly Russian-born Israeli immigrants headed to Russia to visit relatives. The four Israeli families were seeking $1.1 million each from the Ukrainian government.

The court decision challenges the account of the crash widely accepted in Russia, and could anger Moscow, which dominates the Interstate Aviation Committee. The group investigated the accident on Russia's behalf.

The court, which did not consider what caused the crash, has several days to release an explanation for its ruling.

But a lawyer representing the Ukrainian government asserted that the plane was not downed by a missile.

"It couldn't have been that missile," Andriy Kozlov said in an interview.

He said the Interstate Aviation Committee's conclusions were rife with errors, contradictions and severe procedural violations. He said its documents contained discrepancies ranging from several seconds to one minute about the exact time the missile was fired and about its subsequent movement.

In court, he also said Russian investigators miscalculated the distance the missile would have covered based on the average speed of such missiles.

The committee's report also contradicted itself, with some documents saying the plane was destroyed in the air, while others said the plane broke apart after hitting the water, Kozlov said in the interview. Some materials indicated that "control over the missile had been lost," while elsewhere the report said "surveillance of the plane was performed by radar until the moment the missile initiated its explosive mechanism," he said.

"We don't know what brought the plane down," he said. "It was the job of the investigators and special services to find out what really happened. Unfortunately, they failed."

Kozlov said some victims' bodies contained small metal balls that resemble those of the missile payload, but no components or other traces of the missile were found at the crash site. He said the balls could have been taken from other sources and used in any explosive device.

Ukrainian investigators determined that the metal balls used in such missile payloads are usually identical to one another, while the balls found at the crash site were varied, suggesting no such missile was involved, Kozlov said.

An S-200, also known as SA-5, a large surface-to-air missile built to shoot down aerial targets, in particular heavy bombers and AVACS planes flying at high altitudes, was fired during the exercise just minutes before the plane went down. Such missiles work by exploding near the target and riddling it with shrapnel.

Ukraine first denied that its missile was involved.