Around 11:00AM ET today, Interfax, CNN, and other news agencies began reporting that Malaysia Airlines flight 17, heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in eastern Ukraine.
Some 280 passengers and at least 15 crew members, a total of 295 lives, are believed to have been on board the Boeing 777 passenger jet. This is the second crash involving Malaysia Airlines within the past few months.
Ukraine's interior minister says the plane was “shot down,” and claims Ukrainian forces are not responsible, but that pro-Russia forces are. Early reports say the plane may have been struck by a Buk anti-aircraft missile system developed by Russia. The Buk system has been reported in the possession of both Ukrainian and pro-Russia forces in the region.
Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Minister, told the Associated Press today that Malaysia Airlines MH17 was likely struck by a Buk-fired missile, while the plane was flying at 33,000 feet. An AP reporter reported having viewed a Buk system in the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne earlier today.
Early public reports of the flight manifest indicate there were American citizens on board.
President Obama, speaking in Delaware at pre-planned event around 2pm ET, said the U.S. government is “working to determine” if this is correct. In a press conference just after 2PM ET, the US State Dept. said it cannot confirm.
Below, a widely-circulated video said to show the crash.
Ukrainian officials are "very concerned" about conditions surrounding the apparent crash. Around the same time of the crash, the defense minister of pro-Russian separatist group Donetsk People's Republic claimed to have "shot down a Ukrainian plane," reported CNN and others. Earlier this week, two planes were reported to have been shot down in this region, by the Russian side.
Malaysia's Prime Minister says the nation is "shocked" at reports of a possible second jet crash involving Malaysia Airlines, and that the government is launching an "immediate investigation."
The President of Ukraine calls it a “terrorist action,” and blames separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
Other international flights scheduled to travel through the region are re-routing to avoid Eastern Ukraine.
In April, 2014, The Federal Aviation Administration had warned U.S. pilots not to fly over portions of Ukraine in the Crimea region. [PDF Link]
The incident takes place on the anniversary of an earlier historic air tragedy: on July 17, 1996 TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed, killing 230 people in one of the three deadliest aviation disasters in American territory.
In a press conference held just before 2pm ET, a Ukrainian Defense Official said the investigation will be conducted by Ukraine government forces in the Donetsk region.
"It will be difficult work due to the huge spread of wreckage, and due to the challenges posed by armed terrorists in the area," he told reporters.
But international observers are questioning how the government of Ukraine could possibly run an effective and impartial investigation. If Ukraine does, the argument goes, the process will be politically charged and lack the urgently needed expertise of an international body with history conducting such investigations. If Russia directs an investigation, it would be politically tainted in another way. Would Ukraine permit a U.S. or European investigative body to control the process? Unlikely.
Of greatest importance: accessing the plane's "black box" data recorder, as fast as possible. The crash scene is a crime scene, experts point out, and that crime scene is already tainted.
Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow.— Malaysia Airlines (@MAS) July 17, 2014
BREAKING: Other flights in area of Malaysia Airline flight shot down seem to be changing course pic.twitter.com/E04Ak3y7FU— AirLiveNet (@airlivenet) July 17, 2014