UPDATE (6:07 p.m. EDT): U.S. intelligence officials say they believe a surface-to-air missile shot down a Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 295 people over eastern Ukraine today. The U.S. has not confirmed where the missile was launched from, but Vice President Joe Biden has said the incident was “not an accident” and described the plane as having been “blown out of the sky.”
UPDATE (5:50 p.m. EDT): Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Ukrainian government bears responsibility, at least indirectly, for the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight. Putin made the following remarks in a meeting of his economic advisers, according to a Kremlin statement:
“This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.”
UPDATE (3:20 p.m. EDT): While both Ukrainian officials and rebels deny shooting down the Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed in eastern Ukraine today, an analyst who has been keeping tabs on the fighting there claims the pro-Russian separatists don’t have weapons capable of firing as high as the plane was flying.
Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said the rebels only have the ability to fire missiles to about 14,750 feet. The plane was reported to be flying at 33,000 feet. Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have the same missile systems—the SA-17—a ground-to-air weapon capable of taking out the passenger plane. Sutyagin said he had seen no evidence that Russia has provided that kind of military hardware to the rebels.
But an Associated Press crew reported seeing an SA-17, also known as the Buk missile system, earlier Thursday in an area near the town of Snizhne, which is currently held by the rebels. In reporting the downed plane, Ukrainian officials said the missile came from a Buk launcher. Grabovo, where the plane came down, also is in rebel-held territory, about 25 miles from the Russian border.
U.S. President Barack Obama was on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin when news of the downed plane broke. White House aides would not reveal what the two leaders said about the incident. Later, Obama said the United States would work with Ukrainian officials to try to figure out what happened.
“The world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border,” Obama said later as he took the stage for a speech in Delaware to discuss transportation funding. “It looks like it might be a terrible tragedy. Right now we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority.”
UPDATE (1:40 p.m. EDT): An Associated Press journalist has counted at least 22 bodies at the site of the plane crash in eastern Ukraine. Wreckage is scattered across a wide area in the village of Grabovo. It appears to have broken apart before impact. Nearby fields are strewn with body parts and passengers’ personal belongings. The flight was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
UPDATE (12:55 p.m. EDT): A spokesman for separatist rebels in Donetsk, Ukraine, denied they were responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane. Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister for the rebels, told The Associated Press the plane must have been shot down by Ukrainian government troops, though he had no evidence to support that assertion.
OUR EARLIER REPORT (12:18 p.m. EDT): Ukrainian and Malaysian officials say a passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over eastern Ukraine today. No word yet on any possible survivors.
The plane, which originated in Amsterdam, was flying at about 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile fired by a Buk launcher, an advisor to Ukraine’s interior minister announced on Facebook. Ukraine's president said his country’s military “did not take action against any airborne targets,” implying rebel forces are to blame.
Fighting between Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists has gotten more intense in the last week, with Russian forces weighing in on the side of the rebels. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials say a Russian plane shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Rebel forces claimed responsibility for an attack on two Ukrainian jets earlier that same day day, hitting one with a surface-to-air missile.
Earlier this week, Ukraine claims one of its military transport planes was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory, although analysts say it’s more likely an anti-aircraft rocket launcher held by rebels is responsible.