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Malaysian passenger plane crashes in Ukraine

Government, rebels deny shooting it down

Posted: July 17, 2014 at 10:55 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

Smoke rises up at a crash site of a passenger plane, near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, Thursday, July 17, 2014. A Ukrainian official said a passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down Thursday as it flew over the country and plumes of black smoke rose up near a rebel-held village in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines tweeted that it lost contact with one of its flights as it was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over Ukrainian airspace.

KIEV, Ukraine — A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukraine on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said, and both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the aircraft.

As plumes of black smoke rose up near the rebel-held village of Hrabove in eastern Ukraine, an Associated Press journalist counted at least 22 bodies at the wreckage site 25 miles from the Russian border.

A Russian news report said pro-Russia rebels intend to call a three-day cease-fire to allow for an investigation into the crash and recovery efforts.

The Boeing 777-200ER, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, appeared to have broken up before impact and the burning wreckage was scattered over a wide area.

There was no indication there were any survivors. Malaysia's prime minister said the plane didn't make any distress call before it went down, and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Malaysia Airlines said Ukrainian aviation authorities told the company they had lost contact with Flight MH17 at 10 a.m. EDT about 20 miles from Tamak waypoint, which is 30 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.

It said the plane was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members. It had left Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6:10 a.m. Friday.

At least 154 people on the flight were Dutch citizens, said Huib Gorter, Malaysian Airlines senior vice president in Europe. There were also 27 Australians on board, 23 Malaysians, including all 15 crew, and 11 Indonesians.

Other nationalities so far identified were six passengers from the United Kingdom, four from Germany, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian. There are still 47 dead whose nationalities haven't yet been confirmed, he added.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and called for an international investigation into the crash.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet. He said it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 72,000 feet.

Poroshenko said his country's armed forces didn't shoot at any airborne targets.

"We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said. "We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."

Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told The Associated Press that he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down but gave no explanation or proof for his statement.

Purgin said he did not know whether rebel forces owned Buk missile launchers, but said even if they did, they had no fighters capable of operating them.

A launcher similar to the Buk missile system was seen by Associated Press journalists earlier Thursday near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels.

President Barack Obama called the crash a "terrible tragedy" and talked about it on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Later, Putin said Ukraine bears responsibility for the crash. But he didn't address the question of who might have shot down the plane and didn't accuse Ukraine of doing so.

"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine," Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early Friday. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

Britain said the U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Friday morning on Ukraine.

It was the second time that a Malaysia Airlines plane was lost in less than six months. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It has not been found, but the search has been concentrated in the Indian Ocean far west of Australia.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Twitter there's no confirmation that Thursday's plane was shot down. He said he has instructed the country's military to check.

There have been disputes over planes being shot down earlier in the region.

On Wednesday evening, a Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said Thursday, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the separatist insurgents. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet hit by the air-to-air missile was forced to bail after his jet was shot down.

Pro-Russia rebels, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for strikes Wednesday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely

Moscow denies Western charges that is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest in its neighbor. The Russian Defense Ministry couldn't be reached for comment Thursday about the Ukrainian jet being shot down.

Earlier this week, Ukraine said a military transport plane was shot down Monday by a missile fired from Russian territory.

Other passenger planes have been shot down before including:

— April 20, 1978: Korean Airlines Flight 902, which diverted from its planned course on a flight from Paris to Seoul and strayed over the Soviet Union. After being fired upon by an interceptor aircraft, the crew made a forced landing at night on the surface of a frozen lake. Two of the 97 passengers were killed by the hostile fire.

— Sept. 1, 1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down by at least one Soviet air-to-air missile after the 747 had strayed into Soviet airspace. All 240 passengers and 29 crew were killed.

— July 3, 1988: Iran Air Flight 655 Aircraft was shot down by a surface to air missile from the American naval vessel U.S.S. Vincennes. All 16 crew and 274 passengers were killed.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more details.

US intel says Malaysian plane shot down by missile

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. official said Thursday that American intelligence authorities now believe a surface-to-air missile took down the Malaysian passenger plane as it flew over eastern Ukraine.

The official said the U.S. was still working to determine additional details about the crash, including who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukraine side of the border. But the official said it appeared unlikely the Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane because they don't have those capabilities.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has sophisticated technologies that can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from the rocket engine.

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