Malaysian Airlines Plane Goes Down In Ukraine, May Have Been Shot Down

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UPDATED: Thursday July 17, 2014 6:42 PM

Ukraine said passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down Thursday as it flew over the country, and both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the plane.

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

The plane appeared to have broken up before impact and the burning wreckage - including body parts and the belongings of passengers - was scattered over a wide area.

Malaysia Airlines tweeted that it lost contact with one of its flights carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew as it was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over Ukrainian airspace, but did not yet confirm the crash.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and called for an international investigation into the crash.

The Donetsk region government said a plane crashed Thursday near a village called Grabovo, which it said is currently under the control of the separatists. The region where the flight was lost has seen severe fighting between the two sides in recent days.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters (33,000 feet). He said it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet).

The Malaysia Airlines plane is a Boeing 777-200ER, which was delivered to Malaysia Airlines on July 30, 1997, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online Fleets, which sells and tracks information about aircraft. It has more than 43,000 hours of flight time and 6,950 takeoffs and landings.

Poroshenko said his country's armed forces didn't shoot at any airborne targets.

"We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said. "We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."

Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told The Associated Press that he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down but gave no explanation or proof for his statement.

Purgin said he did not know whether rebel forces owned Buk missile launchers, but said even if they did, there had no fighters capable of operating it.

A Russian news agency has quoted a leader of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebels as saying they intend to call a three-day cease fire to allow an investigation of the crash of a Malaysian airliner.
    
The RIA-Novosti agency on Thursday quoted rebel leader Alexander Borodai as saying discussions were underway with Ukrainian authorities on calling the short truce for humanitarian reasons.
    
He said international organizations would be allowed into the conflict-plagued region.
A former plane crash investigator at Ohio State University talked to 10TV about what it will take to investigate the crash.

One of the first things officials will be looking for is evidence that the plane was actually taken down by a missile. Part of that information will come from the burnt wreckage, the other from the debris pattern.
 
"They will be able to look at the airplane wreckage and determine where the aircraft was hit. What they will be able to find is a unique pattern that's associated with a missile strike," says former aviation crash investigator Shawn Pruchnicki, who teaches at the Center for Aviation and Aeronautics at Ohio State University.
 
He says if a missile brought down Malaysian Flight 370, it probably hit the plane without the pilots ever seeing it.

"Typically they'll come from behind if it's a heat seeking missile then it's going to lock on the engines," he says.
 
Pruchncki spent nine years investigating plane crashes, including the 2006 Comair crash in Lexington, Kentucky that killed 49 people. 

He says investigators at the crash site of the Malaysian plane crash will not only try to determine why it crashed, but they'll also try to determine if this was a case of mistaken identity.
 
"That's another question that has to be answered. Were they aware it was a passenger aircraft, did they mistake it for a military aircraft like has happened in the past?" he says.

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