A Malaysian airliner crashed in strife-torn east Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board and leaving a horrific trail of carnage on the ground, with US claims it was shot down in a missile attack prompting global consternation.
Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian forces of the “terrorist act” as stunned world leaders called for an international inquiry into the disaster, which could further fan the flames of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, also heaps new distress on Malaysia and its flag carrier, which is still afflicted by the trauma and global stigma of flight MH370’s disappearance four months ago.
Dozens of mutilated corpses and body parts were strewn around the smouldering wreckage of the Boeing 777, which went down Thursday in a cornfield in the village of Grabove near the Russian border. Shocked residents of the village said the crash felt “like an earthquake”.
World leaders demanded an international investigation into the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in which all 298 people on board were killed, a tragedy that could further heighten tensions between Russia and the West.
One U.S. official said Washington strongly suspected a surface-to-air missile that downed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday was fired by Ukrainian separatists backed by Moscow.
There was no evidence Ukrainian government forces fired a missile, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Detroit, said the passenger jet was apparently “blown out of the sky”.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott appeared to go further than other Western leaders in apportioning blame, demanding on Friday that Moscow answer questions about the “Russian-backed rebels” that he said were behind the disaster.
More than 20 Australians were among the many nationalities aboard Flight MH17. The Netherlands was the worst affected, with 154 Dutch citizens on the downed plane.
The plane crashed near the village of Hrabove about 40 km (25 miles) from the border with Russia near the regional capital of Donetsk, an area that is a stronghold of rebels who have been fighting Ukrainian government forces for several months.
Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight.
Russian President Vladimir Putin – at loggerheads with the West over his policies toward Ukraine – pinned the blame on Kiev for renewing its offensive against rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called it a “tragedy” but did not say who brought the Boeing 777 down.
The disaster comes just months after Malaysia’s Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 on board. That plane diverted from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path and its fate remains a mystery despite a massive multinational aerial and underwater search.
“This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia,” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told a press conference early Friday after announcing an “immediate investigation”.
Najib added that a team of disaster response specialists had been dispatched to Kiev and that authorities in Ukraine had agreed to try to establish “a humanitarian corridor to the crash site”.
Deep thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones who lost their lives on MH17. This is a terrible thing to happen.
The shooting down of civilian aircraft is extremely rare, and if proved the case, the downing of the MH17 would be one of the deadliest yet.
In 1988, 290 were killed when an Iran Air plane was shot out of the sky and 269 died when Soviet fighter jets downed a South Korean Boeing 747 in 1983.