A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER, which the carrier said was carrying 283 passengers, including three infants, and 15 crew members on Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After leaving Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. local time, the aircraft was due to land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6:10 a.m. local time the following day.
Though Ukrainian military aircraft have been shot down over eastern Ukraine by rebels, and the area has been the scene of fierce fighting, the route taken by the Malaysian jet appears to have been subject to no flight restrictions, the International Air Transport Association, an industry group, said. Eurocontrol, a European air safety organization, said the plane apparently was flying at approximately 10,000 meters (33,000 feet), which was authorized, although Ukrainian authorities had closed the airspace at lower altitudes.
Malaysia Airlines said it was notified by Ukrainian authorities that they lost contact with the plane when it was 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Tamak waypoint, approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Ukraine-Russia border. The plane-tracking service FlightAware.com said the last reported position for MH17 was at 33,000 feet just west of Ukraine's border with Russia. Ukrainian authorities reported the crash, and an Associated Press journalist found the site near a village held by pro-Russia fighters 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russia border. The reporter said the aircraft appeared to have broken up before impact. Burning wreckage and the belongings of passengers were strewn over a wide area.
A Malaysian woman speaks to media as she arrives to confirm news that her daughter was on board Malaysia Airlines MH17, in Sepang. (Reuters)
An adviser to Ukraine's interior minister said the plane was shot down with a missile, but gave no proof. In a counterclaim, a pro-Moscow separatist leader said he was certain that it was Ukrainian troops who downed the airliner, but also offered no explanation or proof. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denied his country's armed forces fired on any aerial targets Thursday. Independent Western defense experts told the AP that both Ukrainian and Russian armed forces possess SA-17 missile launchers capable of reaching an altitude of 20,000 meters (66,000 feet), and that pro-Moscow insurgents may have gotten their hands on one to two surface-to-air missiles when Ukrainian forces retreated.
A launcher similar to the SA-17 missile system, also known as Buk, was seen by AP journalists earlier Thursday near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels.
At least 154 people on the flight were Dutch citizens, said Huib Gorter, Malaysian Airlines senior vice president in Europe. There were also 43 Malaysians, including all 15 crew on board, 27 Australians, and 12 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 nationality has not yet been confirmed, he added.
President Obama, who was informed by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call of reports of a downed passenger jet, asked that his advisers keep him updated. Boeing offered any assistance that authorities might request. Eurocontrol said Ukrainian authorities informed it that all air space in Eastern Ukraine has now been closed, and that any flight plans filed using these routes will be rejected by Eurocontrol until further notice.