What You Need to Know About the Malaysian Plane Crash in Ukraine

A picture taken on July 17, 2014 shows smoke and wreckage of the malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, in rebel-held east Ukraine. Pro-Russian rebels fighting central Kiev authorities claimed on Thursday that the Malaysian airline that crashed in Ukraine had been shot down by a Ukrainian jet
National Journal
Brian Resnick
July 17, 2014, 7:27 a.m.

A Malay­si­an pas­sen­ger plane car­ry­ing 298 on board has crashed in Ukraine near the bor­der with Rus­sia. Few de­tails have been con­firmed right now and this story con­tin­ues to de­vel­op. The plane was trav­el­ing from Am­s­ter­dam to Ku­ala Lum­pur in Malay­sia and was found burn­ing on the ground in Ukraine. 

Wall Street Journ­al re­ports that U.S. in­tel­li­gence be­lieves a sur­face-to-air mis­sile was fired at the plane, but it is not clear who shot it. Vice Pres­id­ent Biden gave weight to the re­ports Thursday af­ter­noon, say­ing that the plane was “ap­par­ently… shot down, not an ac­ci­dent, blown out of the sky.” Ukrain­i­an of­fi­cials are sug­gest­ing that the plane, a Boe­ing 777, could have been shot down by a sur­face-to-air Buk mis­sile sys­tem, though this has not been con­firmed.

In a state­ment re­leased late Thursday, the White House called for an im­me­di­ate cease-fire in the re­gion in or­der to al­low an in­ter­na­tion­al in­vest­ig­a­tion to take place. The state­ment also warned against tam­per­ing with any po­ten­tial evid­ence at the crash site, and called on Rus­sia to “im­me­di­ately take con­crete steps to de-es­cal­ate the situ­ation in Ukraine.”

A Ukrain­i­an se­cur­ity chief, Re­u­ters re­ports, is now ac­cus­ing two Rus­si­an in­tel­li­gence of­ficers of be­ing in­volved, based on phone in­ter­cepts.

As of Fri­day morn­ing, the U.S. State de­part­ment has not con­firmed any Amer­ic­ans on board. Malay­sia Air­lines re­leased a list of pas­sen­ger na­tion­al­it­ies, list­ing no Amer­ic­ans. Pas­sen­gers in­cluded 189 from the Neth­er­lands, 44 (in­clud­ing 15 crew and two in­fants) from Malay­sia, 27 from Aus­tralia, 12 (in­clud­ing one in­fant) from In­done­sia, nine from the UK, four from Ger­many, four from Bel­gi­um, three from Phil­ip­pines, one from New Zea­l­and and one from Canada.There are four pas­sen­gers whose na­tion­al­it­ies have not yet been veri­fied.

Con­tra­dict­ing early, un­con­firmed re­ports about nearly two dozen Amer­ic­an cit­izens be­ing on board the plane, BuzzFeed re­ports Fri­day morn­ing that no pas­sen­gers on the flight used a U.S. pass­port to check in. There could still have been pas­sen­gers with dual-cit­izen­ship, however.

The Sydney Morn­ing Her­ald re­ports about 100 of the pas­sen­gers on board were headed to Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, for an in­ter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence on AIDS re­search. One of the re­por­ted vic­tims is former In­ter­na­tion­al AIDS So­ci­ety pres­id­ent Joep Lange. “If that is the case then the HIV/AIDS move­ment has truly lost a gi­ant,” the IAS re­leased in a state­ment.

“It looks like it may be a ter­rible tragedy,” Pres­id­ent Obama said Thursday from Wilm­ing­ton, Delaware. “We’re work­ing to de­term­ine wheth­er there were Amer­ic­an cit­izens on board — that is our first pri­or­ity. And I have dir­ec­ted my na­tion­al se­cur­ity team to stay in close con­tact with the Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment.”

The plane crashed near the town of Grabovo, and was said to be fly­ing at about 33,000 feet be­fore radar lost it. Air­lines are now avoid­ing East­ern Ukrain­i­an air­space.

In a state­ment late Thursday, Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin said that the plane is Ukraine’s “re­spons­ib­il­ity,” as that’s where the plane crashed. Ac­cord­ing to Re­u­ters’ trans­la­tion of his Rus­si­an re­marks, Putin also sug­ges­ted that the crash wouldn’t have happened “if Kiev had not re­newed mil­it­ary op­er­a­tion against rebels in east Ukraine.”

Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Petro Poroshen­ko con­firmed the crash earli­er Thursday, stress­ing “that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take ac­tion against any air­borne tar­gets.” In sep­ar­ate state­ment he de­scribed the in­cid­ent as “ter­ror­ist ac­tion.” Vice Pres­id­ent Biden, who is in De­troit Thursday, spoke to Poroshen­ko by phone in the af­ter­noon and offered U.S. as­sist­ance. Biden says that the U.S. will send a team to Ukraine “to de­term­ine what happened.”

Pro-Rus­si­an rebels are deny­ing any in­volve­ment in the crash. “We do not have any idea what this is about and who shot down the plane. We’re head­ing there now to in­vest­ig­ate everything in­de­pend­ently,” Tatyana Dvory­adk­ina, co-chair of the Don­etsk People’s Re­pub­lic, a pro-Rus­si­an Ukrain­i­an rebel group, told Gaz­eta, a Rus­si­an news­pa­per.

The Rus­si­an gov­ern­ment also in­sisted that it had noth­ing to do with the event. “In view of vari­ous types of spec­u­la­tion con­cern­ing op­er­a­tions of the Rus­si­an armed forces in the areas bor­der­ing Ukraine, we af­firm that the anti-air­craft means of the Rus­si­an armed forces did not op­er­ate in that re­gion on Ju­ly 17,” the Rus­si­an De­fense Min­istry said in a state­ment.

A Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ment spokes­man said (in spotty Eng­lish) at a press con­fer­ence Thursday af­ter­noon that his gov­ern­ment has in­ter­cep­ted phone calls “where ter­ror­ists are dis­cuss­ing to each oth­er that they ar­rived to the place where the plane shot down” and that “they re­cog­nized that the plane is ci­vil­ian.”

In the ab­sence of con­firmed facts, blame is trav­el­ing across the Rus­sia, Ukraine bor­der. Rus­sia’s RT even sug­ges­ted that Vladi­mir Putin’s plane may have been the tar­get for a Ukrain­i­an mis­sile that ul­ti­mately took down MH17, al­though that claim has since been dialed back.

This wouldn’t be the first time a plane has been shot down near the Ukraine-Rus­sia bor­der. Just last month, U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon “con­demned in the strongest terms” an at­tack that brought down a Ukra­ni­an mil­it­ary plane in east­ern Ukraine, killing 49 people.

Malay­sia Air­lines con­firmed it had lost con­tact with the flight MH17 earli­er Thursday. 

The loss of the plane comes just a day after Pres­id­ent Obama in­creased sanc­tions against Rus­sia for its in­volve­ment in Ukraine. Dur­ing a phone call Thursday morn­ing to dis­cuss those sanc­tions, the White House press of­fice re­lays, “Pres. Putin noted the early re­ports of a downed pas­sen­ger jet near the Rus­sia-Ukraine bor­der.” 

The U.K. is push­ing for an emer­gency meet­ing of the United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil to go over the crash. ABC re­ports that the coun­cil will meet Fri­day morn­ing.

On MS­N­BC earli­er Thursday, Sen­at­or John Mc­Cain gave an in­dic­a­tion of how ser­i­ous the glob­al rami­fic­a­tions would be if Rus­sia or pro-Rus­si­an sep­ar­at­ists are found re­spons­ible for the crash. “If it is a res­ult of either sep­ar­at­ist or Rus­si­an ac­tions mis­takenly be­liev­ing this was a Ukrain­i­an war plane, I think there’s gonna be hell to pay and there should be,” Mc­Cain said.

Sen. Carl Lev­in, chair­man of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, told The Daily Beast Thursday that “who­ever did it should pay a full price,” and that “it could be con­sidered an act of war” if the plane was shot down dir­ectly or in­dir­ectly by a coun­try.

The plane, des­ig­nated MH 17, was fol­low­ing a typ­ic­al flight pat­tern. However, the FAA has is­sued flight ad­visor­ies for the re­gion, say­ing fly­ing through Ukrain­i­an air­space is a “po­ten­tially haz­ard­ous situ­ation.”

The flight path of Malay­sia Air­lines 17 ends in the area near the Ukraine-Rus­sia bor­der. (Flight­Stats)

A Ukrain­i­an of­fi­cial, Ant­on Ger­ashchen­ko — an ad­viser to Ukraine’s In­teri­or Min­is­ter — re­leased the fol­low­ing video on his Face­book page, pur­portedly of the crash site. This video, we stress, has not been oth­er­wise con­firmed.

An in­de­pend­ent journ­al­ist in the area has seen smoke and pieces of a plane wreck­age.

Re­u­ters also has pho­tos of the crash site. 

The Ukraine-Rus­sia bor­der has been a site of armed con­flict in re­cent months, fol­low­ing Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of the Crimean re­gion.

A man stands next to the wreck­age of the Malay­si­an air­liner car­ry­ing 295 people from Am­s­ter­dam to Ku­ala Lum­pur after it crashed, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on Ju­ly 17, 2014. Pro-Rus­si­an rebels fight­ing cent­ral Kiev au­thor­it­ies claimed on Thursday that the Malay­si­an air­line that crashed in Ukraine had been shot down by a Ukrain­i­an jet. (DOMI­N­IQUE FA­GET/AFP/Getty Im­ages)

This post is break­ing and will be up­dated.

A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this post cited an In­ter­fax re­port say­ing Amer­ic­ans had been on board the flight. As of late Thursday night, we could not veri­fy this in­form­a­tion. Malay­sia Air­lines re­leased a list of the na­tion­al­it­ies of the pas­sen­gers. None were lis­ted as Amer­ic­an, though 41 pas­sen­gers’ na­tion­al­it­ies re­main un­veri­fied.

Contributions by Emma Roller, Kaveh Waddell and Matt Berman