U.S. Intelligence Thinks Flight MH17 Was Hit by a Missile, Killing 298

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An Emergencies Ministry member works at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region on July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members crashed in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, near the Russian border. Echoing Ukrainian officials, U.S. intelligence believes a surface-to-air missile brought the flight down, but they are divided on the origin of the strike, a source told Reuters.

There were no reports of survivors. Reuters pictures showed a scene of devastation with burning debris and body parts spread over a wide area near the village of Grabovo. An airport official puts the death toll as follows: 189 Dutch, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, ten from the U.K., four from Germany, four from Belgium, three from the Philippines, and one Canadian, and one from New Zealand, the BBC reports. In a news conference on Friday, President Barack Obama said there was at least one U.S. citizen on board.

Ukraine's intelligence agency has released footage of what they say are intercepted phone calls between Russian military intelligence officers and pro-Russia separatists. In the conversations, they appear to acknowledge the plane has been shot down, but sound shocked upon realizing it's a civilian aircraft completely devoid of any weapons. "Civilian items, medical equipment, towels, toilet paper" are some of the items they find on the ground.

The Ukrainian Prime Minister has ordered an investigation, while the Ukrainian president says that Ukrainian forces were not involved in bringing the plane down. Ukrainian officials said the plane may have been shot down by a Russian-made Buk, or Beech, antiaircraft system, according to a report in The New York Times. A Ukrainian interior ministry official blamed "terrorists" using a ground-to-air missile on the "catastrophe," Reuters reports

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS:

  • The S.B.U., Ukraine's intelligence agency, released footage of what they say is audio between Russian military intelligence and pro-Russia separatists. An English-language translation of the conversation shows Igor Bezler, a separatist commander, telling a Russian military intelligence official, "We have just shot down a plane."

  • In a statement released by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin says, "Undoubtedly, the government in whose air space this happened bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy." He also said that the tragedy would not have happened if Ukrainian forces "had not renewed hostilities in south-eastern Ukraine."
  • The Malaysian jet was hit by a surface-to-air missile, according to U.S. intelligence, The Wall Street Journal reports. Intelligence has not yet determined the origin of the missile. According to Reuters, Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Detroit, says the crash was "not an accident" and the plane was "blown out of the sky."
  • A pro-Russia rebel leader has reportedly called for a three-day halt in fighting to allow for recovery and rescue work at the plane crash cite, Reuters reports, citing the RIA news agency.
  • The United Nations Security Council plans to hold a meeting tomorrow, at the request of the United Kingdom, to discuss the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, reports The Daily Telegraph. U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement, "As yet, we do not have any definitive information about how this incident occurred and I don’t want to speculate at this stage. We believe that there must be a UN-led international investigation of the facts."
  • Ukraine's Defence Ministry said that no Ukrainian fighter jets were in the area when the Malaysian aircraft was downed, the BBC reports. In a statement, the ministry said, "No surface-to-air systems are involved in the military operation against separatists in the east, and the plane was out of reach of other Ukrainian air defence forces."
  • Reports that the flight was flying through restricted airspace are being disputed. The International Air Transport Association said in a statement that "based on the information available it is believed that the airspace tat the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions." Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control body, said that at 33,000 feet, flight MH-17 was flying just 1,000 above restricted airspace before it crashed, the Guardian reports.
  • President Barack Obama spoke about the crash at the beginning of an event in Delaware, saying that it "looks like it may be a terrible tragedy." He also offered to U.S. assistance to determine what caused the crash, NBC News reports. Determining whether there were any Americans on board the plane is the top priority, he said. Vice President Joseph Biden has spoken with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and offered U.S. assistance, Reuters quotes the White House as saying.
  • Pro-Russian separists in Eastern Ukraine have reportedly found the "black box" flight recorder from the plane, Reuters reports.
  • Footage posted online by Russia Today shows close-ups of the debris from the plane, strewn across a field.
  • 80 children are believed to be among the dead, reports The Independent. 
  • A map showing empty Ukrainian airspace after the crash has been circulating online. 
  • A devastating eye-witness account from The New York Times gives a vivid description of details at the scene. Villagers in Grabovo, the closest to the crash site, thought they were being bombed at first, before noticing the bodies. "Headphones and computers were scattered throughout a field of sunflowers. In another field, a Dutch passport lay open," Sabrina Tavernise writes. "Rescue workers said they counted many children. A boy who looked to be around 10 lay on his side in the grass in a red T-shirt that read 'Don't Panic'." Journalist Noah Snieder had some similarly harrowing observations

RTR3Z2AW A man works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, on July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

This video reportedly shows smoke billowing from the downed plane, although Newsweek cannot confirm this.

The Boeing 777 flight was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Reuters reports that the plane was came down 20 miles outside of entering Russian airspace, and another official, quoted by Interfax, said the plane disappeared at a height of 10,000 meters. According to the International Business Times, the flight was at cruising altitude, "at a height that can be reached only by sophisticated missiles, fired either from the ground or from fighter aircraft." Governments of both Russia and Ukraine possess such missiles as, the International Business Times points out, could pro-Russian separists based in eastern Ukraine.

A Reuters correspondent on the ground in Eastern Ukraine reports seeing bodies on the ground amidst the burning wreckage, while an Emergency Ministry officals tells Reuters body parts are "scattered" and there are at least 100 bodies seen at the scene, which is near the village of Grabovo.

RTR3Z2B5 A general view shows the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

The reporter adds that wreckage debris was thrown throughout an area up to nine miles in diameter, and includes red and blue pieces of the broken plane wing.

Malaysian authorities are launching an investigation into the crash. 

The Ukranian State Aviation Service shut down airspace to civilian aircraft on July 8 for security reasons. 

The Malaysia Airlines MH-17 plane crash has sparked more than 810,000 tweets today, according to data provided by social data analytics firm Brandwatch.

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