UKRAINE, RUSSIA (CNN) – A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, prompting a Ukrainian official to say that the flight carrying 295 people had been “shot down.”
“Terrorists” fired on the plane operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system, according to a Facebook post from Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.
The plane, a Boeing 777, went down near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to the post, as it flew at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet).
“We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, according to his website.
He also said he has expressed condolences to Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte about Flight 17, which was headed from Amsterdam to Malaysia. He said he invites Dutch experts to participate in the investigation of the crash, emphasizing that he does not call it an “incident” or a “catastrophe,” but a “terrorist action.”
Details of the incident are quickly pouring in about Thursday’s crash which comes the same week that Ukrainian officials said a Russian fighter shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane while the aircraft was in Ukrainian airspace.
As news broke of the crash, Malaysia Airlines confirmed in a tweet that it lost contact with Flight 17 and that the jet’s last known position was over Ukrainian airspace.
CNN’s Richard Quest, an aviation expert, said that it would be “extremely unusual” for an airliner at 32,000 feet to be shot down. From the ground, one could simply look up and tell whether a plane was a commercial aircraft.
“It looks like a commercial aircraft, it squawks a commercial aircraft. So something is absolutely appalling that’s gone on here,” he said.
Reports are still coming in about who may have been on board and where they’re from.
But Laurent Fabius, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, confirmed to CNN that there were at least four French victims on the plane.
FlightRadar24 showed the plane disappearing near Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak tweeted that an investigation will be launched immediately. “I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed,” he posted.
And Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ordered that a government commission investigate the crash, a statement from his office said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “expressed deep condolences” to Malaysia’s Prime Minister over the crash, a post Thursday on the Kremlin’s website said. He “asked to pass the most sincere word of condolences and support to families and relatives of (the crash) victims,” the post said.
Near the end of a phone call Thursday morning with President Obama, Putin noted to the President the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Obama has directed his staff to be in touch with senior Ukrainian officials, Earnest said.
Later Thursday, Obama said the crash “looks like it may be a terrible tragedy” and he said efforts were underway to determine if any Americans were aboard.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is traveling in Detroit Thursday, talked on the phone with President Poroshenko, Earnest said, adding that Biden offered U.S. assistance to help determine why the crash occurred.
Thursday’s crash marks the second time this year that Malaysia Airlines has faced an incident involving a downed plane.
On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. That Boeing 777 had 239 people on board. Searchers have found no trace of 370 or its passengers, despite extensive search efforts.
Flight 370 probably flew into the southern Indian Ocean on autopilot with an unresponsive crew, Australian authorities said last month.
During the early phase of the search for Flight 370, aircraft and ships scoured vast stretches of the surface of the southern Indian Ocean but found no debris.
Pings initially thought to be from the missing plane’s flight recorders led to a concentrated underwater search that turned up nothing.
A new underwater search, farther south, will be broadly in an area where planes and vessels had already looked for debris on the surface of the water. It is expected to begin in August.
The first Boeing 777 entered service in June 1985, and the airplane has flown almost five million flights, accumulating more than 18 million flight hours, according to Boeing’s web site. The plane is capable to flying up to 43,100 feet.
Aviation experts cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Thursday’s crash at this early stage.
But all agreed that a massive investigation should be launched, involving parties not involved in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia,
The families of people on board will demand a transparent international investigation, and so will the global community, Quest said.
CNN aviation analyst and pilot Miles O’Brien said he thinks it would be difficult to mistake the plane for a military or hostile aircraft.
“A civilian airliner at that level, at that flight path, would be very difficult to mistake for something that has hostile intent,” he said.
The wreckage path, O’Brien said, will reveal a lot. If a plane breaks up in midair, which is likely what would happen in a missile strike, there would be a large swath of wreckage, he said, but if it breaks down due to mechanical failure, the debris field would be more concentrated.
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