Malaysia Airlines lost a plane in Ukrainian airspace near the Ukraine-Russia border Thursday. The company’s official Twitter page posted at 11:36 a.m. EST that it had “lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam." Reuters reported that all 295 people aboard are dead. The jet came down over Donetsk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist stronghold, crashing some twenty-five miles from the Russian border. The Russian news source Interfax reportedly broke the story citing Russian aviation officials. Its website was inaccessible as the story broke. The Associated Press reports that Anton Gerashenko, Ukraine’s interior minister, wrote on his Facebook profile that it was shot down by a Buk missile system.
This comes a day after Ukrainian officials accused the Russian air force of shooting down one of its jets. An Su-25 was allegedly downed Wednesday evening. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, also accused Russia of firing Grad rockets on Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk region.
Locals have found the wreckage and bodies from the Malaysia Airlines jet, a Boeing 777, scattered in the area around the crash, according to Ukrainian officials. Reuters reported that its own correspondents encountered debris and corpses near the village of Grabovo.
Separatists control the area, and the AP reports that some of their journalists saw what was possibly a Buk launcher system near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. While responsibility has not yet been assigned or accepted, pro-Russian separatists have claimed responsibility for shooting down Ukrainian military planes in recent days.
Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it received notice of the lost contact from Ukrainian air traffic control at 9:15 a.m. EST. Other airlines have reportedly adjusted flight plans to avoid crossing over eastern Ukrainian airspace.
The only possible suspects for the surface-to-air missile launch seem to be Ukrainian, Russian, and separatist armed forces. Ukrainian officials have accused the separatists of carrying out the attack. Rebel leadership has responded by assigning the strike to the Ukrainian military. President Petro Poreshenko said that his country’s armed forces have not shot at any airborne targets and that he and his government “are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."
The separatist military commander and Russian ex-intelligence officer Igor Strelkov wrote on his social media page that the militants had brought down an Antonov An-26 military transport plane shortly before news of the MH17 downing. This has prompted speculation of a possible targeting error on the part of a separatist missile crew, bringing down the civilian rather than the military plane. The plane was flying at a low cruising altitude, bringing it into the upper range of a Buk Missile System.
Russia has denied any part in escalating the conflict in Ukraine and has not commented on the downed jet officially, though the White House has released a statement that Vladimir Putin and President Obama did speak of the incident in a Thursday phone call.
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