- By FP Staff
Update: 4:20 p.m.
Among the 298 passengers and crew on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were a number of prominent AIDS researchers, activists, and health workers, according to the International AIDS Society. They were traveling to the International AIDS Conference, which was scheduled to kick off on Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.
Initial reports from Australia put the number of victims at 100, but Chris Beyrer, the incoming president of the organization, told the Washington Post the actual figure may be smaller. “We have been working hard to try and confirm how many people were on the flight. We’ve been speaking to a number of different authorities, and we think the actual number is much smaller,” he said.
President Obama spoke of the scientists at a press conference at the White House on Friday. “These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others, and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence,” he said.
Among the flight’s passengers was Joep Lange, a leading researcher in the field and longtime advocate for providing affordable drugs to AIDS patients in developing countries.
His associate told the New York Times that he had just returned from Tanzania, where he was establishing a program to deliver medication to remote areas.
Glenn Thomas, spokesman for the World Health Organization was also on board the flight, traveling to the conference, the organization confirmed.
Update: 3:30 p.m.
The SBU, Ukraine’s main security service, has released another video containing what it describes as intercepted telephone calls between separatists in eastern Ukraine and Russian intelligence agents. According to an SBU translation of the calls, Russian agents discuss moving Buk missile systems across the Russian border into Ukraine. At other points during the phone calls, militants discuss with the Russian agents how they plan to use the missiles.
The Buk missile system has become a central piece of evidence in ongoing efforts to determine who shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Shortly after the plane’s crash on Thursday, rebels in Ukraine’s east claimed they lacked the capability to shoot down a plane flying at such a high altitude. But in recent weeks rebel groups in the east have bragged about acquiring advanced surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down planes travelling at a high altitude.
IHS Jane’s, the defense publisher, published a graphic Friday illustrating the various capabilities of anti-aircraft systems known to be present in Ukraine. The Buk would have no trouble reaching a commercial airliner and may have been used to shoot down a Ukrainian cargo plane earlier this week.
The conversations released Friday are the second time the SBU has released such intercepted calls since the airliner crashed. On Thursday, they released a telephone call in which Ukrainian militants reportedly admit to shooting down a civilian airliner.
Update: 2:30 p.m.
In the aftermath of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, there has been no shortage of tragic and often surreal dispatches from the scene of the disaster. But nothing quite matches a Reuters story from Friday morning. The article describes how residents of the area watched as bodies rained from the sky of eastern Ukraine, busting through roofs and landing in vegetable patches:
First came the loud explosion that made buildings rattle: then it started raining bodies.
One of the corpses fell through the rickety roof of Irina Tipunova’s house in this sleepy village, just after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 exploded high over eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces.
“There was a howling noise and everything started to rattle. Then objects started falling out of the sky,” the 65-year-old pensioner said in front of her grey-brick home.
“And then I heard a roar and she landed in the kitchen, the roof was broken,” she said, showing the gaping hole made by the body when it came through the ceiling of the kitchen in an extension to the house.
The dead woman’s naked body was still lying inside the house, next to a bed.
About 100 meters (330 feet) from Tipunova’s home, dozens more dead bodies lay in the wheat fields where the airliner came down on Thursday, killing all 298 people on board.
Still visibly shaken by her experience, Tipunova said: “The body’s still here because they told me to wait for experts to come and get it.”
Another local resident in her 20s who refused to give her name said she ran outside after hearing the plane explode.
“I opened the door and I saw people falling. One fell in my vegetable patch,” she said.
Update: 1:35 p.m.
The Ukrainian Interior Minister posted a video on his Facebook page Friday of what he claims is an anti-aircraft missile system being driven toward the Russian border. The video, a brief clip, shows what appears to be a Buk missile system, a Russian-made weapon suspected of having been used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, being transported on the back of a truck.
While the video’s authenticity has not been confirmed, it is the latest evidence indicating that pro-Russian separatists had access to the kind of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles required to shoot down a plane traveling at the altitude of a commercial jetliner. As you can see below, the system seen in the video resembles the Buk missiles that rebels in Donetsk bragged about obtaining in a now-deleted tweet:
— Silver Surfer (@RobPulseNews) July 17, 2014
Update: 1:10 p.m.
In remarks at the White House, President Obama said that the Malaysia Airlines jet that crashed in eastern Ukraine was shot down with a surface-to-air missile that was fired from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Notably, Obama did not go so far as to explicitly say that separatists forces had fired the missile, which would appear to give the White House a measure of breathing room in dealing with the crisis. Still, Obama noted that separatists in the east have in recent days claimed responsibility for downing a Ukrainian transport plane, a fighter jet, and a helicopter.
Indeed, Obama emphasized that much is still not known about what occurred over the skies of eastern Ukraine and joined a growing chorus of world leaders calling for an international investigation to determine the facts of the incident. In order to enable such an investigation, Obama called on both sides of the conflict to agree to a cease-fire.
“We are going to make sure that the truth is out,” he said, adding that one American is known to have been on board the flight and is presumed to have died.
Update: 12:55 p.m.
The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that killed all 298 people on board prominently featured on the front pages of dozens of international newspapers on Friday, the day after the crash. “Shot Down,” “Doomed Flight” read the headlines in Canada. “Tragedy or Terrorism?” asked a Colombian newspaper. “War in the Sky,” a French daily wrote. “Putin’s War,” screamed New York Daily News.
Here’s a selection of those headlines:
“One of the worst air disasters in Dutch history” — said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
The story, however, did not make big headlines in Russian press, which featured the U.S. sanctions on Russia instead. Shaun Walker at the Guardian called it “either a strange editorial decision or a conscious plan to play down an attack that much of the world was already linking to Russia.” Curiously, the state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported on the eating habits of Russians on the top of the front page, pushing the crash to the bottom.
Front page images via Newseum
Update: 12:15 p.m.
Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly I. Churkin denied Moscow played any role in downing Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and accused Kiev of recklessly allowing a commercial passenger plane into a conflict zone.
“We didn’t do it,” Churkin told reporters outside the U.N. Security Council meeting.
Inside the council chamber, Churkin joined the U.N. Security Council’s call for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the crash of the Boeing 777. But he quickly sought to deflect focus from the alleged perpetrators of the shoot down. Instead, he blamed Ukrainian authorities for allowing a civilian flight into an area where warring forces were firing rockets. He urged his counterparts not to be swayed by mere “insinuations” suggesting a Russian role in the incident.
“Any normal person must wonder, I think, why did Ukraine air dispatchers send a plane into a war zone?” he said. Why, he added, did they “send this plane over an area where missile strikes were taking place.”
Churkin took aim at the United States and its European allies for encouraging Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to mount a military offensive against separatists in eastern Ukraine. “They actually pushed them to escalate the crisis, and here I’m talking about the United States,” Churkin told the Security Council. Now, he added, they are “trying to lay blame for the catastrophe on Russia.”
Churkin accused Ukrainian forces of “intentionally” targeting Ukrainian refugees seeking to flee to Russia, and of regularly firing mortar and artillery at crossing points along the Russian-Ukrainian border, killing and wounding civilians, including Russian nationals.
“We place all blame on the Kiev powers or government,” he said, and “call for the Ukrainian side” to take action to “stem such incidents in the future.”
Update: 11:52 a.m.
President Obama is set to deliver remarks on the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Watch him speak live here:
Update: 11:20 a.m.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 “was likely downed” by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired from an area in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Speaking at an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, Power said that circumstantial evidence pointed strongly toward the involvement of Russian missile experts in training the perpetrators.
Power said that only the most sophisticated rockets had the capacity to reach the passenger jet, which was flying at an altitude of about 33,000 feet. Publicly available flight tracking data indicates that there was “nothing threatening or provocative about MH17,” she said.
Power said that Western journalists had spotted separatists with SA-11 missiles near the site of the crash and that the missile system’s sophistication raised questions about whether the perpetrators of the shoot-down had help One “cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel,” she said.
France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, posted a tweet hinting at a Russian government role in supplying Ukrainian separatist with missiles. “May this senseless tragedy [lead] Russia to understand that arming and supporting thugs leads to senseless chaos.”
Britain’s U.N. envoy called on Russia to use its influence to ensure that pro-Russian separatists cooperate with international investigators. “We welcome indication from the Ukrainian authorities that they want international investigators to join this effort,” he said. “There must be no interference or tampering with the evidence. Armed separatist groups in the vicinity must allow such access. Despite assurances that were made yesterday evening, we understand that this has not yet happened. We call on Russia to use its influence with these groups to ensure that this happens.”
Update: 10:45 a.m.
An analysis by U.S. intelligence agencies has reportedly concluded that the missile that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was probably fired by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Intelligence officials indicated that the launch was likely spotted by military systems that detect the heat of missile exhausts. The United States has also placed surveillance satellites over the region in recent months, following Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which should help determine the location of the missile launcher and whether it was fired by separatists.
In a statement Thursday night, a White House spokesman stopped short of blaming the separatists for the missile strike, but placed responsibility for the shoot down on the Russian government. “While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power told the Security Council Friday morning that the missile that downed the Malaysian airliner was fired from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Power said the missile was likely a Russian-made SA11, or Buk. As we reported Thursday, the Buk missile system had been spotted in the vicinity of the crash by reporters in eastern Ukraine. Power said the rebels likely couldn’t have fired the sophisticated weapons system on their own and that “we cannot rule out Russian technical assistance.”
Update: 10:35 a.m.
Sarah Firth, a London-based correspondent for RT, the Kremlin-backed television channel and news service, resigned Friday over the network’s coverage of the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine. She told Buzzfeed that the network was manipulating the facts in attempt to blame the incident on the Ukrainian government. “When this story broke I ran back into the newsroom and saw how we were covering it already, and I just knew I had to go,” she said.
I resigned from RT today. I have huge respect for many in the team, but I’m for the truth. pic.twitter.com/mZ1g0R7N0D
— Sara Firth (@Sara__Firth) July 18, 2014
“It was the total disregard to the facts. We threw up eyewitness accounts from someone on the ground openly accusing the Ukrainian government [of involvement in the disaster], and a correspondent in the studio pulled up a plane crash before that the Ukrainian government had been involved in and said it was ‘worth mentioning,'” she told Buzzfeed.
Firth is the second RT journalist to resign this year over the network’s fawning coverage of Russia. In March, anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air, announcing she didn’t want to be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin.”
Firth said that RT was “flirting with that border of overtly lying….I couldn’t do it any more. Every single day we’re lying and finding sexier ways to do it.”
Update: 10:30 a.m.
The U.N. Security Council reached agreement Friday on a statement calling for an “independent international investigation” into Thursday’s crash of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 passenger jet over eastern Ukraine, according to two council diplomats.
The statement will be issued later this morning at an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. The Australian government, meanwhile, is expected to seek Security Council approval for a more formal U.N. Security Council resolution that would reinforce this morning’s call for an investigation.
On Thursday night, the British government first proposed establishing an independent probe by the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization, saying that British nationals were among the 298 people killed in the crash, which U.S. officials claim was caused by a Russian-made rocket. “I’ve just called U.N. Secretary General underlining the need for a strong commitment to an international investigation into [the] MH17 disaster,” Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted this morning.
Russia last night asked for more time to consider the proposal. But it allowed a 9:30 AM deadline Friday for deciding whether to join Security Council consensus on the statement to pass without objection, paving the way for the statement’s adoption later this morning
“The members of the Security Council called for a full, thorough, and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with the international civil aviation guidelines and for appropriate accountability,” the statement says. “The members of the Security Council stressed the need for all parties to grant immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the accident.”
Update: 10:15 a.m.
On Thursday, a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashed in eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board. All are feared dead, and according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials, the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. While it remains unclear who was responsible for downing the plane, the Boeing 777 crashed in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists, who in recent weeks have been spotted in possession of missiles capable of shooting down a plane flying at the altitude of a commercial passenger jet. The incident has further escalated the crisis in Ukraine, and today FP will be providing live coverage here from our reporters and editors. Stay tuned.