Malaysian Airliner Crashes In Eastern Ukraine

Jul 17, 2014
Originally published on July 17, 2014 6:40 pm

A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying nearly 300 people has crashed in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. In the immediate aftermath, it is not clear whether the plane was shot down, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is calling for a swift investigation.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. We begin this hour with a crash of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet. It went down in eastern Ukraine with 280 passengers and 15 crew members. The plane crashed in the part of Ukraine that has seen intense fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces. Each side is now accusing the other of shooting the plane down. Video of the site shows wreckage spread over a wide area. Emergency workers say they have counted more than 100 bodies. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Moscow. And Corey, what do we know so far about this crash?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, we know the plane was a Boeing 777 - a jumbo jet. And it was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The airline says it lost contact with the flight over Ukraine just as it was about to cross into Russian airspace. Ukrainian aviation officials say the flight appeared to be normal right up until the time it disappeared.

SIEGEL: That might be seen as supporting the idea of foul play here.

FLINTOFF: Yes, and that's what the Ukrainian government is saying - specifically, that the plane was shot down at an altitude of around 33,000 feet by a ground to air missile. The Ukrainian officials are even specifying that it was a kind of Soviet and Russian missile known as a Buk - that's a mobile missile launcher on tracks. They say that Russia provided these Buk missile launchers to the rebels and that the rebels must have shot the plane down.

SIEGEL: But the rebels are claiming that Ukrainian forces fired the missile that shot the plane down.

FLINTOFF: Yes they are. And Ukrainians also have these Buk missile systems. But, you know, it's worth remembering that the two sides are involved in this very intense and bloody conflict right now. And they both seize on any opportunity for propaganda. And frankly, they both lied about things that have happened.

One thing that's worth noting is that the rebel's military commander - he's known as Strelkov - Igor Girkin is his actual name, he's a Russian citizen. He said on Twitter that his forces had shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane just at about the time that this Malaysian jet disappeared. And that tweet was later deleted from his account.

SIEGEL: Corey, this is not the first plane that has gone down in the area recently. What can you tell us about that?

FLINTOFF: Well, Ukraine says that one of its military transport planes was shot down on Monday. They say it was shot down by a missile fired from the Russian side of the border. The Ukrainians also say that one of their jet fighters was shot down yesterday by an air-to-air missile. And since the rebels don't seem to have fighter aircrafts, that would seem to imply that their missile was fired by a Russian military jet. And that's the strongest allegation so far from the Ukrainian government - that Russia's military is now taking a direct part in this fighting. Russia, of course, is denying that it has any military involvement in the conflict.

SIEGEL: A U.S. official has said on background that the U.S. believes the plane was, in fact, shot down by a missile. And NPR reporters have heard from congressional sources that U.S. officials expect to have a pretty clear idea of what happened there by tomorrow. Does that seem possible given the conditions on the ground?

FLINTOFF: Well, the area where the plane went down is under rebel control. It's actually not very far from Donetsk. And, of course, there's been speculation that whoever controls the area basically controls the evidence. Russia has offered to work jointly with Ukraine to investigate the crash, but that seems pretty unlikely, frankly. One thing about this conflict though is that this region has been under very intense scrutiny by NATO analysts who've been looking at satellite data. So it may actually be possible to figure out what happened on the basis of that data.

SIEGEL: OK, Corey. Thank you.

FLINTOFF: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff reporting on today's crash of the Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine, speaking to us from Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.