U.S. says Malaysian airliner was 'blown out of the sky'
The scale of the disaster, which left scores of unsuspecting foreigners, adults and children, strewn lifeless across the muddy Ukrainian steppe, could prove a turning point for international pressure to resolve the crisis. It has killed hundreds in since protests toppled the Moscow-backed president in Kiev in February and Russia annexed the Crimea a month later.
Reuters journalists saw burning and charred wreckage bearing the red and blue Malaysia insignia and dozens of bodies strewn in fields near the village of Hrabove, 25 miles from the Russian border near the rebel-held regional capital of Donetsk.
The Ukrainian government, condemning an act of “terrorism”, released recordings it said were of Russian intelligence officers discussing the shooting down of a civilian airliner by rebels who may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military plane.
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 remained open, though only above 32,000 feet. The Malaysia plane was flying 1,000 feet higher, officials said.
As word came in of what Ukraine’s Western-backed president called a “terrorist attack”, Obama was on the phone with Putin, discussing a new round of economic sanctions that Washington and its EU partners imposed to try to force Putin to do more to curb the revolt against the Western-backed government in Kiev.
Malaysia Airlines said air traffic controllers lost contact with flight MH-17 in the afternoon as it flew over eastern Ukraine towards the Russian border, bound for Asia with 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard. Flight tracking data indicated it was at its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet when it disappeared.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak demanded swift justice for those responsible and said the crash site must not be interfered with before international experts had access.
Russia, which Western powers accuse of trying to destabilize 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.
The military commander of the rebels, a Russian named Igor Strelkov, had written on his social media page at 1337 GMT, that his forces had brought down an Antonov An-26 in the same area. It is a turboprop transport plane of a type used by Ukraine’s forces. There was no comment on that from Ukrainian officials.
Several Ukrainian planes and helicopters have been shot down in four months of fighting in the region. Ukraine had said an An-26 was shot down on Monday and one of its Sukhoi Su-25 fighters was downed on Wednesday by an air-to-air missile - Kiev’s strongest accusation yet of direct Russian involvement, since the rebels do not appear to have access to aircraft.
The loss of MH-17 is the second disaster for Malaysia Airlines this year, following the mysterious loss of flight MH-370. It disappeared in March with 239 passengers and crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
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