Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 reportedly shot down near Ukraine-Russia border
U.S. V.P. Biden says plane was apparently 'blown out of the sky'
At least one Canadian was among the 298 people on board a Malaysian passenger airliner that senior U.S officials say was shot down by a surface-to-air missile Thursday near the border of Ukraine and Russia.
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U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said the plane's downing was "not an accident" and said the jet had been "blown out of the sky."
Several U.S. news agencies reported that according to senior U.S. officials, the plane had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile. But the officials were not sure who had launched the missile.
Jos Nijhuis, CEO of Schiphol Airport, confirmed the 15-member crew were Malaysian nationals and said that along with at least one Canadian, the plane also carried:
- 154 Dutch passengers.
- 27 from Australia.
- 28 from Malaysia (including two infants).
- 12 Indonesians (including one infant).
- Nine from the United Kingdom.
- Four from Germany.
- Four from Belgium.
- Three from the Philippines.
Nijhuis said the nationalities of some passengers were still being determined.
Of the passengers on board, officials said several were world-renowned researchers heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia. The plane was scheduled to continue flying to Perth after stopping in Kuala Lumpur, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Brisbane.
"We understand from reports that a Canadian citizen is among the dead. On behalf of the Government of Canada, Laureen and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of the victims of this outrageous act," he said.
“While we do not yet know who is responsible for this attack, we continue to condemn Russia’s military aggression and illegal occupation of Ukraine, which is at the root of the ongoing conflict in the region."
Harper also said Canada stands ready to "provide whatever support it can" to determine the cause of the crash.
UN calls emergency meeting
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Ukraine on Friday and is mulling a draft statement calling for "a full, thorough and independent international investigation."
The British-drafted statement, reviewed by Reuters, stressed the need for "all parties to grant immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident."
Such informal statements by the 15-member council are agreed by consensus. If there were no objections the statement was due to be issued later on Thursday.
But diplomats said Russia had asked for the deadline to be extended until Friday morning to give it more time to review the three paragraph statement.
The Security Council is then due to meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine at 10 a.m. ET Friday.
The draft statement calls for an investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines and "for appropriate accountability."
Bodies, wreckage strewn about
Reuters reported that one of its correspondents in Eastern Ukraine saw the burning wreckage of an airplane Thursday, with bodies on the ground. Meanwhile, an emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had been found at the scene, near the village of Grabavo. Grabavo is in the eastern province of Donetsk, which is under the control of pro-Russia separatists and has been the site of severe fighting between rebels and the government for several months.
Witnesses reported debris from the wreckage was strewn about.
The Boeing 777-200ER, carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members, was shot down at an altitude of 10,000 metres above Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian bureau of the Russia-based news agency Interfax reported. The Boeing plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Officials had initially reported that 280 passengers were on board but Malaysia Airlines later revamped the numbers.
"Everything I've seen so far ties directly with this aircraft being feasibly shot down by a surface-to-air missile," Jock Williams, retired Canadian military pilot and former Transport Canada flight safety officer and artillery expert, told CBC News on Thursday afternoon.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says his country's armed forces did not shoot at any airborne targets.
"We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the armed forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said.
The Associated Press reported that Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on his Facebook page that the plane was flying at an altitude of 10,000 metres when it was hit Thursday by a missile fired from a Buk launcher.
The European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said the aircraft was flying above the airspace that had been closed by Ukrainian authorities. The route had been closed from ground to flight level 320 [32,000 feet] — the aircraft was flying at Flight Level 330 [33,000 feet].
Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the news agency that he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down but gave no explanation or proof for his statement. He said he did not know whether rebel forces owned Buk missile launchers but said even if they did, they had no fighters capable of operating them.
A launcher similar to the Buk missile system was seen by Associated Press journalists near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, which is held by pro-Russia rebels, earlier Thursday.
2nd Malaysia plane mishap in 5 months
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday that Russia did not shoot down the Ukrainian fighter jet on Wednesday. "We didn't do it," Churkin said.
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However, Ukrainian’s secret service said it had recordings of two calls; one that they claimed reveal a rebel commander telling a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces had shot down the plane. The secret service said the second call reveals two rebel fighters talking about shooting down the plane.
Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, said on CBCs Power & Politics that the recordings suggest that the rebels believed they had shot down a Ukrainian military aircraft.
Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that it received notification from Ukrainian air traffic control that it had lost contact with Flight MH17 at 10 a.m. ET around 30 kilometres from Tamak waypoint, approximately 50 kilometres from the Russia-Ukraine border.
This is the second incident in less than five months involving a Malaysia Airlines plane. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared in March while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It has not been found, but the search for the wreckage of the plane has been concentrated in the Indian Ocean far west of Australia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Thursday's plane did not make any distress call and that its flight route had been declared safe by the global civil aviation body.
After speaking with leaders of Ukraine, the Netherlands and U.S. President Barack Obama, Razak said "no stone will be left unturned" in finding out what happened to Flight 17.
He told reporters that Ukrainian authorities believe the Boeing 777-200 was shot down Thursday, but said that Malaysia itself is "unable to verify the cause of this tragedy."
"If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice," he said.
Airlines to avoid Eastern Ukrainian airpace
A number of airlines said they will avoid the airspace of Eastern Ukraine following the incident.
Angela Mah, a spokeswoman for Air Canada, said the airline had been "proactively" avoiding that airspace for some time.
"We do not foresee any impact on our passengers," she said in an email to CBC.
Arthur Rosenberg, an American lawyer who specializes in aviation cases, told CBC News that the U.S. had already issued a notice to pilots and airplanes to stay away from the area because it's incredibly dangerous.
He said that just days ago, one of the leaders of the pro-separatist movement in the Ukraine took responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian transport aircraft and had issued a warning to stay out of their airspace.
"That was a very foreboding warning which apparently was not heeded — I hate to point the finger at this point — by Malaysian Airlines. Bottom line is good God, what were they doing in that airspace? It makes absolutely no sense."
Williams said if a missile did shoot down the plane, the missile would have had 50 to 100 pounds of explosive charge and would be an effective type of warhead that would tear a plane apart.
"So, the plane could be virtually disintegrated in the air, or it could have been able to at least attempt to glide in and land with some control — perhaps not full control — but some control," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine bears responsibility for the crash.
"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine," Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early Friday. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."
With files from Reuters, The Associated Press