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.”
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.”
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.”
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.