Beleaguered Malaysia Airlines suffered another blow Thursday as one of its passenger jets, Flight MH17, was reportedly shot down over the politically unstable Russian border region of Ukraine. The Boeing 777 was in flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and came apart at cruising altitude (above 30,000 feet). All reports indicate that there were no survivors among the 298 passengers and crewmen aboard the flight.
Yahoo News reported July 17 that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was reportedly shot down on the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia. It is an area controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces that has seen several clashes in the past few months. However, none of the three major military elements in the area -- the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the pro-Russian separatists -- have claimed responsibility, denying that they had any involvement in the plane coming down. The separatists and the Ukraine government have instead pointed fingers at each other.
Although it has not been confirmed that Flight MH17 was brought down by military action, Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, took to Facebook and wrote that the jet was flying at an altitude 33,000 feet when a missile fired from a Buk launcher, a Russian-made weapons system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, hit the plane.
The debris field created by the falling pieces of Boeing 777 extends for approximately nine miles outside the village of Grabovo, according to reports relayed by Fox News. A Ukrainian emegency official and a Reuters reporter both described a vast swathe of airplane wreckage and strewn bodies.
Flight MH17 is at least the third airplane to go down -- and be possibly shot down -- in the area, the Donetsk region of Ukraine, in the past few days. A Ukrainian An-26 cargo plane was shot down Monday. Late Wednesday, a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet crashed, but confirmation of it being shot down has not been confirmed. Just prior to the Malaysia Airlines plane going down, Russian separatist forces reportedly claimed to have shot down another Ukrainian cargo aircraft.
Tension in the region -- along with the contentious Russian annexation of Crimea -- had become so heated in recent months that the U. S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited American airlines from flying in the area. "Due to the potential for conflicting air traffic control instructions from Ukrainian and Russian authorities and for the related potential misidentification of civil aircraft, United States flight operations are prohibited until further notice in the airspace over Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov," the FAA said in a statement in April, according to CNN.
The Malaysia Airlines plane crash occurred in eastern Ukraine, north-northeast of the Sea of Azov.
“Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam," read a post from the airline's Twitter account. "The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow."
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also took to Twitter to announce that an investigation will be launched immediately. "I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed," he posted. "We are launching an immediate investigation."
The flight manifest has indicated that there were 23 Americans aboard Flight MH17. President Barack Obama, who is currenlty in Delaware, called the incident a "terrible tragedy," according to Yahoo News. He said that the White House was aware that there were possible American fatalities and was working to confirm the reports.
This is the second major incident involving the loss of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 this year. On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared without a trace after first vanishing off of radar screens over the South China Sea. It was later tracked to a point off the west coast of Malaysia, hundreds of miles west its intended flight path, before taking a southerly route out over the Indian Ocean. All 239 passengers and crewmen are believed to be dead.
(Correction: This article originally reported 295 passengers and crewmen aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a reflection of warring reports. The aritcle has been updated to show the actual number of those on board the Boeing 777 when it was shot down over Ukraine - 298.)