Shortly after the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17, there were many “conspiracy theories” going around on the internet. One of the more bizarre claims that were made, is that the plane that took off from Amsterdam was not the same as the one that crashed in Ukraine. This claim was mostly based on a picture posted on facebook, shortly before boarding the plane, by Cor Pan, a Dutch passenger on that fateful flight.
In that particular picture, it looks like the two letters on the front wheel doors are RC, which would indicate a Malaysia Airlines aircraft with registration number 9M-MRC. Here is a blow-up of the relevant fragment of the (in)famous facebook picture:
However, the aircraft that crashed in eastern Ukraine has registration number 9M-MRD, as is clearly visible on some of the pictures of the actual wreckage:
My personal first reaction was that it must have been some strange light reflection making the RD on the wheel doors in Cor Pan’s picture look like RC. But as unbelievable as I found the claim that there are two different planes involved, I also found it hard to deny that it really looks like RC on the wheel doors in the facebook picture. So I decided to look into it a bit more myself.
First, here are high-resolution pictures taken by plane spotters of both 9M-MRC and 9M-MRD. As you can see, the full registration number is clearly visible towards the rear of the aircraft, and the last two letters are on the front wheel doors. Malaysia Airlines indeed has several planes of this type (Boeing 777), including two with those particular registration numbers.
However, according to data from flightradar24.com, 9M-MRC last flew the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur route (flight MH17) on 11 July, and on 17 July it flew from Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur. So, it clearly could not have been in Amsterdam on that day.
Furthermore, from the plane spotters’ pictures, it seems that 9M-MRC has some marking (perhaps a logo?) between the front door and the first window. This marking is not present on 9M-MRD. Indeed, in Cor Pan’s picture, there is no such marking either.
Next, a news article that appeared several days after the incident, shows a picture from another plane spotter (Fred Neeleman), supposedly of flight MH17 taking off from Amsterdam on 17 July. Unfortunately, the registration number of the aircraft is not clearly visible, but if I had to guess, I’d say the last letter is a D rather than a C. Here is an enlarged and enhanced fragment of that picture, showing the registration number:
And finally, here is an interesting web page that initially asked the same question, but now shows many pictures of both 9M-MRC and 9M-MRD that indicate that it is certainly possible that the D on the wheel door looks like a C due to light reflection.
So, taking all this additional evidence into account, it seems highly unlikely that the original claim (that the plane that took off from Amsterdam is not the same as the one that crashed in Ukraine) can hold up. I agree that there are still too many questions and uncertainties surrounding this whole incident, and I actually do believe there are (dirty) political motives behind trying to obscure the truth. But let’s try to get that truth out in the open, without being distracted by absurd claims just based on one or two pictures…