Update: The United States also has concluded that the plane was shot down, but hasn't pinpointed who was responsible, a senior U.S. official told CNN. A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, according to the official. A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official said. U.S. is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from.
A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane with 298 passengers aboard was shot down Thursday by a surface-to-air antiaircraft missile over Ukraine, just miles west of the Russian border, where ongoing fighting between Pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian military have been taking place since April.
The Gospel Herald could not independently confirm that the plane crashed, but Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter account that it had lost contact with Flight 17 that was enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Data from the website FlightStats showed that the plane took off from Amsterdam at about 6:30 a.m. ET and was less than three hours into its 11 ½ - hour flight. Flight controllers reported that the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens while flying at an altitude of about 33,000 feet.
A Reuters correspondent near the scene reported seeing burning wreckage and bodies strewn across a nine-mile debris field in Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, among the most volatile regions in the world. A Ukrainian Emergency official said body parts and at least 100 bodies were seen in the area, and there were no survivors among the 280 passengers and 15 crew.
According to CNN, Vice President of Malaysia Airlines Europe Huib Gorter told reporters that the 15 crew members on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all Malaysian nationals.
He gave a breakdown of the known nationalities of the 280 passengers: 154 were Dutch, 27 were Australians, 23 were Malaysians, 11 were Indonesian, six were from the United Kingdom, four were from Germany; four were from Belgium, three were from the Philippines and one was Canadian. Authorities were still trying to determine the nationalities of the other passengers.
Immediately after receiving the report, President Vladimir V. Putin informed President Obama of the report from air traffic controllers of the downed Malaysian plane on Ukrainian territory, White House officials said. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Obama was also briefed separately about the downed Malaysian plane.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said his government was investigating. The defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said that there was no confirmation that the plane had been shot down. He said on Twitter that the Malaysian military had been instructed to "get on it."
Ukraine's recently elected president, Petro Poroshenko, released a statement on the tragedy expressing its "deepest and most sincere condolences to the families and relatives of those killed," adding, "we do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets."
A Ukrainian interior ministry official said that pro-Russian separatists had downed the plane, and a leader of the separatists, Aleksander Borodai, claimed that it was downed by a missile fired from a Ukrainian air force Su-25 combat jet.
In February, Ukrainian protesters toppled the pro-Russian government in Kiev, and Russia responded by invading and later annexing the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. Since then, pro-Russian separatists have fought Ukrainian security forces in the east.
Throughout the conflict, Ukrainian military planes have been shot down in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including earlier this week, but today's crash was the first targeting on a commercial airliner.
While Germany airline Lufthansa and Russian airline Transaero announced that they would stop flying over the region, the American commercial airlines have been prohibited from flying over some parts of Ukraine since April, but the crash site Thursday was outside that zone, according to NBC News.
Thursday's crash marks the second downed Malaysian Airline following the disappearance this year of Flight MH370, which was also a Boeing 777, on March 8.