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Pieces of the fuselage were punctured and the scattering of wreckage over a large area indicated it broke up in flight.
Crash investigators say flight MH17 was probably downed by "a large number of high-energy objects".
An initial report by the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the July 17 disaster, found it likely the Malaysia Airlines plane broke up in the air as a result of "structural damage", caused by the items which "penetrated the aircraft from outside".
The fuselage of the passenger plane had numerous puncture holes
Available images showed pieces of the aircraft fuselage were pierced in numerous places, while the pattern of wreckage on the ground, scattered over a large area, indicated it had broken up in flight.
This would also explain the abrupt end to the recording of flight data on the plane's black boxes, the loss of contact with air traffic control, and the plane's disappearance from radar.
The report said: "There are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew."
All 298 passengers and crew on board the plane were killed when the aircraft, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over an area in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Following the publication of the report, the rebels denied they had the military equipment capable of bringing down a passenger plane.