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Aviation

Investigation into Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine

An international investigation has been launched into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine. It is suspected the plane with 298 people on board was shot down by a missile.

Kyiv and separatists trade blame

An international disaster assistance team is reportedly on its way to Kyiv, as are investigators from the OSCE.

Among the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which crashed on Thursday, were 154 Dutch, 27 Australian, 11 Indonesian, six British, four Belgians and four German nationals; there were reportedly three infants on board. The 15 crew members were Malaysian.

Malaysia Airlines lost contact with Flight MH17 at 1415 UTC, while it was cruising at an altitude of about 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Eye witnesses in Eastern Ukraine reported an explosion and flying debris.

Wreckage bearing red and blue Malaysia Airline insignia and dozens of bodies were scattered over an area of many kilometers in fields near the village of Grabovo, near the rebel-held eastern industrial city of Donetsk.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden described the plane as having been "blown out of the sky."

Blame throwing

While it remained unclear which side of the Russian-Ukrainian border a missile may have been fired from, suspicion is mounting that the plane was downed by a missile fired by a Russian-built "Buk" anti-aircraft system, which can be mounted on a truck and is capable of reaching aircraft at high altitudes.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko spoke of an act of terrorism.

Ukraine's security services produced what they said were intercepted telephone conversations between a rebel commander and a Russian military intelligence officer, as well as rebel fighters at the scene, saying that rebel forces shot down a plane.

The separatists, however, denied any responsibility and, in turn, blame Ukrainian forces.

But Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian rebel leader had earlier boasted of having shot down a Ukrainian cargo plane at the same location the Malaysian airliner went down, fueling suspicion that the Malaysian aircraft may have been shot down by accident.

International airlines, such as Germany's Lufthansa, were quick to reroute their flights following the Malaysian Airlines crash.

Earlier this week, Kyiv said one of Ukraine's military transport planes was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory. So questions are being asked whether the route should have been avoided by civilian aircraft.

"It is a busy aviation route and there have been suggestions that a notice was given to aviators telling airlines to avoid that particular area," said Norman Shanks, who is also professor of aviation security at Coventry University in England.

"But Malaysia Airlines, like a number of other carriers, have been continuing to use it because it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money," he told The Associated Press.

International reactions

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday called for international investigators to be given full access to the crash site.

"The investigation must not be hindered in any way. No one should interfere with the area or move any debris including the black box," he said.

Najib said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told him that Kiev "will negotiate with rebels in the east of the country in order to establish a humanitarian corridor to the crash site."

The Dutch prime minister ordered that flags fly at half mast at government buildings across the country after the country's worst air disaster in history.

Condolences have been pouring in from around the world.

"I'm horrified by the news from eastern Ukraine. With hundreds of completely innocent people having died in this terrible way, words fail you," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

US President Barack Obama said Thursday's incident was a "terrible tragedy," adding that his prayers were with the victims, regardless of where they were from.

Asian markets dropped on Friday as did European and US stock markets on news of Thursday's crash, which raised tensions already fueled by broadened US and EU sanctions.

Aviation's 4th such case

If Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down it would be the fourth commercial airliner in aviation history to endure such a fate.

Previous cases included Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down by a Soviet missile in 1983 and Iran Air Flight 655 shot down by a missile from a US naval vessel in 1988.

Air France said Thursday it had "taken the decision to no longer fly over eastern Ukraine. The German flag carrier Lufthansa said it would make a "wide detour" around the area.

Malaysia Airline's second recent disaster

For Malaysia Airlines, Thursday's crash was its second disaster in less than five months.

On March 8, another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board went missing during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing after veering toward the Indian Ocean.

Despite a massive search off Western Australia, no trace of that plane has yet been found.

rg/av (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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