VIDEO: Ukraine says Malaysian airliner shot down, 298 dead
KYIV / KUALA LUMPUR
A man works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17. REUTERS PhotoMalaysian airliner carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on July 17 in rebel-held east Ukraine, as Kiev said the jet was shot down in a "terrorist" attack.
Ukraine's government and pro-Russian insurgents traded blame for the disaster, with comments attributed to a rebel commander suggesting his men may have downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by mistake, believing it was a Ukrainian army transport plane.
Rescue workers at the crash site told an AFP reporter that they had found one of the black boxes from the passenger liner.
Emergency crews were working through the debris of the downed jet that was spread out across an area stretching for kilometres while rebels controlling the area have pledged to allow international investigators access to the site.
There was no sign of survivors at the crash site near the rebel-held town of Shaktarsk in the Donetsk region, where debris stretched for kilometres in the area near the Russian border, with the jet's tail marked with the Malaysian Airlines insignia laying in a corn field, and insurgent fighters and fire trucks nearby.
The official spokesman for President Petro Poroshenko said he believed pro-Russian insurgents downed the jet. "This incident is not a catastrophe. It is a terrorist act," Poroshenko's spokesman posted on Twitter.
The Ukrainian leader said earlier that "the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky" and vowed "those behind this tragedy will be brought to justice."
Separatist leader Alexander Borodai, meanwhile, accused the Ukrainian government of bringing down the airliner.
Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed it had lost contact with its flight MH-17 from Amsterdam. “The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace,” it said.
In a statement Malaysian airliner revised the number of passangers on board from 295 to 298.
The carrier said that passengers included 154 Duch nationals, 43 Malaysians and 27 Australians in the plane. Twelve were Indonesians including an infant, nine were British, four were German, three were from the Philippines and one was Canadian. The carrier said four were Belgian but the Belgian foreign minister said five Belgians were on board. Malaysia Airlines said the nationalities of 41 passengers remained unconfirmed.
100 AIDS workers in the plane
As many as 100 of those killed were delegates heading to Australia for a global AIDS conference, an Australian daily reported.
The Sydney Morning Herald said those attending a pre-conference meeting in Sydney were told that around 100 of their colleagues were on the plane that went down, including former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange.
The International AIDS Society has confirmed that "a number of our colleagues and friends" were killed, but has not said how many.
Meanwhile, Brussels-based Eurocontrol said that the route was declared open by Ukrainian authorities.
"This route had been closed by the Ukrainian authorities from ground to flight level 320 (approximately 32,000 feet) but was open at the level at which the aircraft was flying," it said.
"According to our information, the aircraft was flying at Flight Level 330 (approximately 10,000 metres/33,000 feet) when it disappeared from the radar."
U.S. President Barack Obama called July 18 for a 'prompt' and 'unimpeded' investigation into the downing of the airliner.
Obama also spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, warning that evidence from the airliner must not be moved from the country until a "thorough and transparent" investigation has taken place.
For his part, Razak said July 18 that the jetliner did not make any distress call, adding that its flight route had been declared safe by the global civil aviation body.
"I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed," Razak said on his Twitter feed. "We are launching an immediate investigation."
Separatists deny accusations, guarantee safe access
The plane came down at Torez, near Shakhtersk, some 40 km from the Russia border. The area has been the scene of fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels.
Separatist rebels in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk have denied that they are responsible for shooting down of the plane. Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister for the rebels, told The Associated Press the plane must have been shot down by Ukrainian government troops. He gave no proof for his statement.
"We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement posted on the president’s website.
They have also guaranteed investigators "safe access" to the crash site. The separatists committed to providing "safe access and security guarantees to the national investigation commission, including international investigators, in the area under their control," the trilateral Contact Group on the Ukraine Crisis said in a statement.
It added adding rebels would also close off the site and allow local authorities to recover the bodies of the victims.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Areseny Yatseniuk ordered an investigation into the "airplane catastrophe."
Just two hours after Yatseniuk's announcment, Ukraine's state security chief accused two Russian military intelligence officers of involvement in the downing of the plane.
SBU chief Valentyn Nalivaychenko said he based his allegation on intercepts of phone conversations between the two officers. "Now you know who carried out this crime. We will do everything for the Russian military who carried out this crime to be punished," he told journalists.
Kiev has accused Russia of taking an active role in the four-month-old conflict in recent days and accused it earlier on July 17 of shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet - an accusation that Moscow denied.
Russia’s U.N. envoy denied involvement in the fighter jet's crash. "We didn’t do it," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, said Ukraine bore responsibility for the downing of a passenger plane in the country's east.
"This tragedy would not have happened, if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed," Putin said in televised comments
The flag carrier and Malaysia’s government are still struggling to provide answers to the mysterious March 8 disappearance of flight MH370.
The plane went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board and is now believed to have diverted off its flight path and crashed in the remote Indian Ocean.
No trace of the plane has yet been found.
Airline companies to avoid Ukrainian airspace
Meanwhile, several airline companies, including Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France and U.S. airlines, have announced that their planes would steer clear of east Ukrainian airspace.
"After the incident we have decided to avoid Ukrainian airspace," a Turkish Airlines spokesman said.