Atikah Abdul Rahman, 20, the niece of Captain Wan Amran,
who was on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, arrives at
Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. Photo by
World leaders are demanding an international
investigation into the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner
with 298 people on board over eastern Ukraine, as Kiev and
Moscow blame each other for a tragedy that is stoking tensions
between Russia and the West.
One US official said Washington strongly suspected the
Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was downed by a sophisticated
surface-to-air missile fired by Ukrainian separatists backed
There were no survivors from the crash, which left wreckage
and bodies scattered across miles of rebel-held territory.
The scale of the disaster could prove a turning point for
international pressure to resolve the crisis in Ukraine,
which has killed hundreds since protests toppled the
Moscow-backed president in Kiev in February and Russia
annexed the Crimea a month later.
The United States called for an immediate ceasefire to allow
easy access to the crash site, while pro-Russian separatists
told the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE), a security and rights body, they would ensure safe
access for international experts visiting the scene.
The plane crashed about 40km from the border with Russia near
the regional capital of Donetsk, an area that is a stronghold
of rebels who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces.
Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied any
involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought
down the intercontinental flight.
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.
"While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this
incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that
is fuelled by Russian support for the separatists, including
through arms, materiel, and training," White House spokesman
Josh Earnest said in a statement.
US Vice President Joe Biden said it appeared the downing of
the jetliner was not an accident and that it apparently was
"blown out of the sky".
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott appeared to go further
than other Western leaders in apportioning blame, demanding
that Moscow answer questions about the "Russian-backed
rebels" that he said were behind the disaster.
More than 20 Australians were among the many nationalities
aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The Netherlands was the
worst affected, with 154 Dutch citizens on the downed plane.
A number of those on board were travelling to an
international AIDS conference in Melbourne, including Joep
Lange, an influential Dutch expert.
"TRAGIC DAY, TRAGIC YEAR"
An emergency worker said at least 100 bodies had been found
so far and that debris was spread over 15km. The airline said
it was carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew.
"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
The loss of MH17 is the second devastating blow for Malaysia
Airlines this year, following the mysterious disappearance of
Flight MH370 in March, which vanished with 239 passengers and
crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
In Malaysia, there was a sense of disbelief that another
airline disaster could strike so soon.
"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."
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 Ramadan.
"We were supposed to celebrate," Noor said, weeping.
Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian
military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range,
Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile.
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 777
US President Barack Obama, who spoke to Dutch Prime Minister
Mark Rutte as well as other leaders, said evidence from the
crash must remain in Ukraine so international investigators
have a chance to look at all of it, officials said.
The White House said the United States was willing to
contribute immediate assistance to the investigation, and CNN
reported that FBI and National Transportation Safety Board
(NTSB) officials would be heading to Ukraine in an advisory
The OSCE said in a statement on its website that a "contact
group" of senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the
OSCE had held a video conference with the separatists, who
pledged to co-operate with Ukrainian authorities in the
Kiev complained that separatists prevented Ukrainian
officials from reaching the site.
Pro-Russian separatists in the region said on Thursday they
had found one of the "black box" recorders.
Rescue workers recovered a second flight recorder on Friday,
a Reuters cameraman on the scene said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for a
transparent international investigation. The U.N. Security
Council will discuss the issue on Friday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who had stepped up an
offensive in the east, spoke to 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 statement.
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.
News of the disaster came as 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
Obama warned of further sanctions if Moscow did not change
course in Ukraine, the White House said.
The Netherlands declared a day of national mourning for its
154 dead. Twenty-eight passengers were Malaysian, 28
Australian, 12 Indonesian, nine British, four German, four
Belgian, three Filipino and one each from Canada and New
Zealand. All 15 crew were Malaysian. Nationalities of the
others aboard were unclear.
Ukrainian officials accused rebels of using a Soviet-era
SA-11 missile system acquired from Russia.
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.
Separatists were quoted in Russian media last month saying
they had acquired a long-range SA-11 anti-aircraft system.
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.
Some international airlines, including Australia's Qantas
Airways and Korea's two major carriers, shifted the route
taken by flights operating over Ukrainian air space months
ago amid increasing tensions between Kiev and pro-Moscow
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an order
prohibiting American aircraft from flying over eastern