Ukraine: 295 on Malaysia plane shot down over east

By Peter Leonard

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 3:57 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, July 17 2014 3:57 p.m. MDT

Malaysia Airlines planes are parked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, July 18, 2013. A Malaysia Airlines flight with nearly 300 people aboard crashed over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border on Thursday, the Ukraine government and a regional European aviation official reported, Thursday, and the Interfax news agency said it had been shot down.

Joshua Paul, Associated Press

HRABOVE, Ukraine — A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukraine on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said, and both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the aircraft.

As plumes of black smoke rose up near a rebel-held village of Hrabove, an Associated Press journalist counted at least 22 bodies at the wreckage site 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.

The village is under the control of pro-Russia separatists and the area has seen severe fighting between the two sides in recent days. Rebel fighters at the scene of the wreckage had piled up victims' possessions into heaps and threatened reporters attempting to film footage.

The insurrection started after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office in February by a protest movement among people wanting closer ties with the European Union instead of Russia.

A Russian news report said pro-Russia rebels intend to call a three-day cease-fire to allow for an investigation into the crash and recovery efforts.

The Boeing 777-200ER, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, appeared to have broken up before impact and the burning wreckage — which included body parts and the belongings of passengers — was scattered over a wide area.

The cockpit and one of the turbines lay at a distance of one 1 kilometer (more than a half-mile) from one another. Residents said the tail had landed around 10 kilometers (six miles) further away. Pieces of charred bodies and bones were spread around the field. Rescue workers planted sticks with white flags in spots where they found body parts.

Some journalists attempting to reach the crash site were detained briefly by rebel militiamen, who were nervous and aggressive.

There was no indication there were any survivors. Malaysia's prime minister said the plane didn't make any distress call before it went down, and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters that Malaysia was unable to verify "the cause of this tragedy but we must, and we will, find out precisely what happened to this flight."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and called for an international investigation into the crash. He insisted that his forces did not shoot down the plane.

At least 154 people on the flight were Dutch citizens, said Huib Gorter, Malaysian Airlines senior vice president in Europe. There were also 27 Australians on board, 23 Malaysians, including all 15 crew, and 11 Indonesians.

Other nationalities so far identified were six passengers from the United Kingdom, four from Germany, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian. There are still 47 dead whose nationalities haven't yet been confirmed, he added.

Ukraine's security services produced what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations that they said showed rebels were responsible. In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane.

In the second, two rebel fighters — one of them at the scene of the crash — say the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the crash site.

Neither recording could be independently verified.

Earlier in the week, the rebels had claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military planes.

President Barack Obama called the crash a "terrible tragedy" and talked about it on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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