3rd UPDATE — Malaysia jetliner brought down in Ukraine by missile, U.S. officials say
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The Associated Press
Burned wreckage at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines 777 carrying 298 people in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
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The Associated Press
In this November 2012 photo, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 takes off from Los Angeles International Airport. The plane, with the tail number 9M-MRD, is the same aircraft that was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday
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The Associated Press (Click on photo to enlarge)
The crash site of a Malaysia Airlines 777 with 295 people aboard on Thursday in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

By SABRINA TAVERNISE, ERIC SCHMITT and RICK GLADSTONE
Copyright 2014 New York Times News Service

GRABOVO, Ukraine — A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 298 people aboard exploded, crashed and burned on a flowered wheat field Thursday in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists, blown out of the sky at 33,000 feet by what Ukrainian and American officials described as a Russian-made antiaircraft missile.

Ukraine accused the separatists of carrying out what it called a terrorist attack. American intelligence and military officials said the plane had been destroyed by a Russian SA-series missile, based on surveillance satellite data that showed the final trajectory and impact of the missile but not its point of origin.

There were strong indications that those responsible may have errantly downed what they had thought was a military aircraft only to discover, to their shock, that they had struck a civilian airliner.

Everyone aboard was killed, their corpses littered among wreckage that smoldered late into the summer night.

Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, blamed Ukraine's government for creating what he called the conditions for the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where separatists have bragged about shooting down at least three Ukrainian military aircraft.

But Putin did not specifically deny that a Russian-made weapon had felled the Malaysian jetliner.

Whatever the cause, the news of the crashed plane, with a passenger manifest that spanned at least nine countries, elevated the insurgency into a new international crisis.

The day before, the United States had slapped new sanctions on Russia for its support of the pro-Kremlin insurgency that has brought East-West relations to their lowest point in many years.

Making the crash even more of a shock, it was the second time within months that Malaysia Airlines had suffered a mass-casualty flight disaster with international intrigue — and with the same model plane, a Boeing 777-200ER.

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia — whose government is still reeling from the unexplained disappearance of Flight 370 in March, somewhere over the Indian Ocean — said he was stupefied at the news of Flight 17, which had been bound for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam with 283 passengers, including three infants, and 15 crew members.

Aviation officials said the aircraft had been traveling an approved and heavily trafficked route over eastern Ukraine, about 20 miles from the Russia border, when it vanished from radar screens at 2:15 p.m. local time, with no distress signal.

“This is a tragic day in what has already been a tragic year for Malaysia,” Najib told reporters in a televised statement from Kuala Lumpur. “If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.”

Najib said he had spoken with the leaders of Ukraine and the Netherlands, who promised their cooperation.

He also said that he had spoken with President Obama, and that “he and I both agreed that the investigation must not be hindered in any way.” The remark pointed to concerns about evidence tampering at the crash site, which is in an area controlled by pro-Russia insurgents.

Obama and Putin also spoke about the disaster and the broader Ukraine crisis, White House officials said, and Putin expressed his condolences to Malaysia.

But in a statement quoted by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency, Putin said, “This tragedy would not have happened if there was peace in the country, if military operations had not resumed in the southeast of Ukraine.”

Adding to Ukrainian and Western suspicions that pro-Russia separatists were culpable, Ukraine's intelligence agency, the State Security Service, known as the S.B.U., released what it said was audio from intercepted phone calls between separatist rebels and Russian military intelligence officers on Thursday. In the audio, the separatists appeared to acknowledge shooting down a civilian plane.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent reporters a link to the edited audio of the calls, with English subtitles, posted on YouTube by the S.B.U.

READ MORE: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/world/europe/malaysian-airlines-jet-ukraine.html?emc=edit_na_20140717

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Last modified: July 17. 2014 6:46PM
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