US Intelligence: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Shot Down By Missile
KIEV, Ukraine (CBSNewYork/AP) – A passenger jet carrying 298 people was shot down Thursday as it flew over Ukraine, and both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the plane.
U.S. intelligence said the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile, but as of late Thursday had yet to determine where the missile was fired from, CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reported.
The tragedy occurred on the 18th anniversary of the crash of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island on July 17, 1996. That crash claimed the lives of all 230 people on board.
Malaysia Airlines said the plane, a Boeing 777, had 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard when it left Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. It was to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6:10 a.m. Friday.
It had previously reported 280 passengers, but amended the number to 283 after three infants had not been included in the original list.
The Boeing 777-200ER was delivered to Malaysia Airlines on July 30, 1997, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Online Fleets, which sells and tracks information about aircraft. It had more than 43,000 hours of flight time and 6,950 takeoffs and landings.
Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it received notification from Ukrainian aviation authorities that it had lost contact with flight MH17 at 1415 GMT some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Tamak waypoint, approximately 50 km (30 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border.
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, though there was no indication there were any survivors.
The plane appeared to have broken up before impact and the burning wreckage — which included body parts and the belongings of passengers — was scattered over a wide area.
Large pieces of the fuselage landed intact, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a meeting with top economic advisers late Thursday with comments on the crash, saying based on preliminary information everyone on board had been killed.
“On behalf of the Russian leadership and the Russian government, we express condolences to the bereaved families, the governments of those countries whose nationals were on that plane,” Putin said.
Malaysia Airlines said it was in the process of notifying the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew and that “all possible care will be provided to the next-of-kin.”
Barry and Izzy Sim were supposed to be on board, but missed their flight.
“You start getting butterflies, your heartbeat starts going,” said Barry.
“We were supposed to be on that flight, and obviously something is watching over us,” Izzy added.
Malaysia’s prime minister said the jetliner did not make any distress call before it went down.
“Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that the aircraft did not make a distress call,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said.
CBS News aviation and safety expert Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously guided a U.S. Airways Flight to an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in 2009, said the pilot may not have had time to call for help.
“Maybe the sudden crisis that occurred was overwhelming and demanded the pilot’s immediate attention just to attempt to control the airplane and solve the immediate problems, and that they did not have time to get to the lower-priority things such as notifying someone on the ground,” Sullenberger told CBS News. “It might be that they were unable to communicate, that their communication systems had failed. It may have been that they were incapacitated — several possibilities present themselves. It’s way too early to know which if those scenarios, or another one, may be the case in this situation.”
Malaysia’s prime minister, who addressed a news conference after speaking with leaders of Ukraine, the Netherlands, and President Barack Obama, also said the flight route had been declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization and that the air space that the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.
The airline said on its website that all of its European flights “will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route” moving forward.
The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement Thursday, saying U.S. carriers have “voluntarily agreed not operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border.”
The FAA said it prohibited U.S. flights from operating in the airspace over the Crimea region of Ukraine, and portions adjacent to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov back on April 3, but the restriction did not cover the area where the Malaysian Airlines flight crashed.
Notices were posted to the agency’s website on April 23 warning U.S. pilots not to fly over portions of the Ukraine in the Crimea region, saying “Political and military tension between Ukraine and the Russian Federation remains high, highlighting the possible existence of serious risks to the safety of international civil flights.”
The U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization and the aviation authorities in most countries issue similar notices for areas where unrest or military conflict creates a risk of being shot down.