An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Photo by Reuters
The United States believes a surface-to-air missile brought
down a Malaysian airliner that crashed in eastern Ukraine,
killing all 298 people on board, an incident that sharply
raises the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow
One US official said Washington strongly suspected the
missile that downed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on a
flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was fired by Ukrainian
separatists backed by Moscow.
There is no evidence Ukrainian government forces fired a
missile, said the official, speaking on condition of
anonymity. A second US official said the origin of the
missile was unclear. US Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in
Detroit, said the passenger jet apparently was "blown out of
Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian
military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range,
Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. Leaders of the rebel
Donetsk People's Republic denied any involvement and said a
Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental
Russian President Vladimir Putin - at loggerheads with the
West over his policies toward Ukraine - pinned the blame on
Kiev for renewing its offensive against rebels two weeks ago
after a ceasefire failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called
it a "tragedy" but did not say who brought the Boeing down.
The loss of MH-17 is the second disaster for Malaysia
Airlines this year, following the mysterious loss of flight
MH-370 in March, which disappeared with 239 passengers and
crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
"If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we
insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to
justice," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a
pre-dawn news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
"This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic
year, for Malaysia."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who had stepped up an
offensive in the east, spoke to US President Barack Obama and
sought to rally world opinion behind his cause. "The external
aggression against Ukraine is not just our problem but a
threat to European and global security," he said in a
Financial markets were hit by worries of new geopolitical
tensions, as Israel invaded the Gaza Strip on the same day.
Smouldering wreckage of the Boeing 777 lay strewn in fields
near the Russian border, along with the bodies of passengers,
more than half of them Dutch. With the area held by rebel
forces, an international row was brewing over access to the
site after separatists said they had taken a black box flight
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a transparent
international investigation of the incident. The U.N.
Security Council will discuss the issue on Friday.
The scale of the disaster, which left scores of unsuspecting
foreigners, including many children, scattered lifeless
across the muddy Ukrainian steppe, could prove a turning
point for international pressure to resolve the crisis. It
has killed hundreds since protests toppled the Moscow-backed
president in Kiev in February and Russia annexed the Crimea a
As word came in of what might be the worst ever attack on a
civilian airliner, Obama was on the phone with Putin,
discussing a new round of economic sanctions that Washington
and its allies have imposed to try to force Putin to do more
to curb the revolt against the new government in Kiev.
Obama warned of further sanctions if Moscow did not change
course in Ukraine, the White House said.
NATIONAL MOURNING IN NETHERLANDS
Reuters journalists saw burning and charred wreckage bearing
the red and blue Malaysia Airlines insignia and dozens of
bodies in fields near the village of Hrabove, 40 km (25
miles) from the Russian border near the rebel-held regional
capital of Donetsk.
The airline said it was carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew.
The Netherlands declared a day of national mourning for its
154 dead. Twenty-eight passengers were Malaysian, 27
Australian, 11 Indonesian, six British, four German, four
Belgian, three Filipino and one Canadian. All 15 crew were
Malaysian. Nationalities of the others aboard were unclear.
Poroshenko called the incident a "terrorist" act and
Ukrainian officials accused rebels of using a Soviet-era
SA-11 missile system acquired from Russia - offering evidence
that they may have believed they were firing on a Ukrainian
The Ukrainian government released recordings it said were of
Russian intelligence officers discussing the shooting down of
an aircraft by rebels they were supporting. Supposedly timed
within minutes of the last radar contact with MH-17 around
4:20 p.m. (1320 GMT), they suggested militants thought they
had hit a Ukrainian military plane before finding the
"Hell," says one of those being recorded. "It's almost 100
percent certain that it's a civilian plane. Bits were falling
in the streets ... Bits of seat, bodies."
After the downing of several Ukrainian military aircraft in
the area in recent months, including two this week, Kiev had
accused Russian forces of playing a direct role.
International air lanes had been open in the area, although
only above 32,000 ft (9,750 metres). The Malaysia plane was
flying 1,000 ft higher, officials said. The area was closed
to flights afterwards.
Ukrainian Interior Ministry official Anton Gerashchenko said
on Facebook: "Just now, over Torez, terrorists using a Buk
anti-aircraft system kindly given to them by Putin have shot
down a civilian airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala
The Buk - which means beech tree in Russia - is a 1970s
vintage, truck-mounted, radar-guided missile system,
codenamed SA-11 Gadfly by Cold War NATO adversaries. It fires
a 5.7-metre (19-ft), 55-kg (110-lb) missile for up to 28 km
He also published a photograph he said showed a Buk launcher
in the centre of the town of Torez, near Hrabove, on
Thursday. It was not possible to verify the image.
Separatists were quoted in Russian media last month saying
they had acquired a long-range SA-11 anti-aircraft system.
One group was quoted as saying that it used such a weapon on
Monday to bring down an Antonov An-26 turboprop plane - a
loss that the Ukrainian forces had confirmed this week along
with the downing of a Sukhoi Su-25 fighter on Wednesday.
"I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the
sound of a plane and then a bang," one local man told Reuters
at Hrabove, known in Russian as Grabovo. "Then I saw the
plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black
An emergency worker said at least 100 bodies had been found
so far and that debris was spread over 15 km (9 miles).
People were scouring the area for the black box flight
recorders and separatists were later quoted as saying they
had found one.
Kiev complained that separatists who are the main force in
the area prevented Ukrainian officials from reaching the
After Obama and Poroshenko spoke, the White House said: "The
presidents emphasised that all evidence from the crash site
must remain in place on the territory of Ukraine until
international investigators are able to examine all aspects
of the tragedy."
At the airport in Kuala Lumpur, relatives of those aboard
gathered, hoping for word. Akma Mohammad Noor said her
sister, Rahimah, was on the flight, coming home for the first
time in years to mark the Muslim festival of the end of
"We were supposed to celebrate," Noor said, weeping.
Russia, which Western powers accuse of trying to destabilise
Ukraine to maintain influence over its old Soviet empire, has
accused Kiev's leaders of mounting a fascist coup. It says it
is holding troops in readiness to protect Russian-speakers in
the east - the same rationale it used for taking over Crimea.