Malaysia Airlines Passenger Jet Downed by Missile Over Ukraine, 298 Dead

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was carrying 298 passengers and crew, was shot down today along the border between Ukraine and Russia. The news was first reported by the Russian news agency Interfax and was confirmed later this afternoon by Joe Biden. All aboard the plane have died.

The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down at about 33,000 feet. According to Malaysia Airlines, air traffic control lost contact with the plane at 4:15 local time. A Reuters reporter in Eastern Ukraine who arrived at the scene soon after the crash spotted burning wreckage along with "bodies on the ground." An official with the Russian Emergency Ministry said that at least 100 bodies were visible on the ground in a roughly 10 mile radius.

UPDATE (4:38 p.m.) According to the Kyiv Post, Ukraine has released what it says is a recording of intercepted communication between two Russian separatists discussing their downing of the plane.

"Major": In short, it was 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft.

"Greek": Are many people there?

"Major": Holy sh__t! The debris fell right into the yards (of homes).

"Greek": What kind of aircraft?

"Major": I haven't ascertained this. I haven't been to the main sight. I am only surveying the scene where the first bodies fell. There are the remains of internal brackets, seats and bodies.

"Greek": Is there anything left of the weapon?

"Major": Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.

"Greek": Are there documents?

"Major": Yes, of one Indonesian student. From a university in Thompson.

UPDATE (4:12 p.m.) The Wall Street Journal is reporting that American intelligence confirms that the jet was hit by a missile.

Eurocontrol, the organization that monitors the safety of European air travel, released a statement today saying that MH17 was flying in approved airspace, but just barely.

According to our information, the aircraft was flying at Flight Level 330 (approximately 10,000 metres/33,000 feet) when it disappeared from the radar. This route had been closed by the Ukrainian authorities from ground to flight level 320 but was open at the level at which the aircraft was flying.

UPDATE (3:01 p.m.) New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise is on the ground in Ukraine, and filed a report that includes haunting descriptions of some of the victims:

A woman in a black sweater top lay on her back, blood streaming from her face, her left arm raised as if signaling someone. Another victim, naked except for a black bra, lay on the field, her grey hair mixing with the green grasses, one leg broken and her body torn.

A young boy, who looked to be around 10 years old, lay on his side in a red T-shirt reading "Don't Panic."

Many of the victims were still in their seat belts and attached to pieces of the plane. One man, still in his socks, but without pants, lay akimbo on the field, his right arm placed on his stomach, as if in repose.

A young man in blue shorts, wearing red Nike sneakers, lay with his arms and legs splayed outward, clutching his iPhone.

Aviation sources monitoring current flights in European airspace have noted that passenger jets are almost completely avoiding Ukrainian airspace at the moment.

UPDATE (2:18 p.m.) In a brief statement about the incident, Barack Obama said that his government is attempting to determine if any American citizens were indeed on board.

UPDATE (2 p.m.) This video is said to show the moment of impact at the main crash site.

Unsurprisingly, no one has yet accepted responsibility for the plane reportedly being shot down, and both Ukraine and Russia are pinning the disaster on the other. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko has said that his country's military "did not take action against airborne targets." Pro-Russian forces in Ukraine similarly deny responsibility, stating that they do not possess the type of missile that is alleged to have brought the jet down. Separatist leader Alexander Borodai followed that up by laying blame at the feet of the Ukrainians.

The below video, though currently unverified, purports to show smoke billowing from the site of the crash.

This blurred image of the wreckage was broadcast earlier today by Russia's LifeNews:

Malaysia Airlines Passenger Jet Downed by Missile Over Ukraine, 298 Dead

A Reuters photographer reached the site of the wreckage and took the following photo:

A Twitter user with the handle @MatzekNovak has been tweeting photos that he says are from the downed plane. Though they have not been confirmed, the debris does appear to match up with that of the Malaysia Airlines jet. Debris has also reportedly scattered across a number of miles.

If Russian military forces did indeed shoot down the jet, it won't have been their first time being involved in such a situation.

[image via AP]