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Live Coverage of the Crisis in Ukraine: The Day After the Crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

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.

-Hanna Kozlowska

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.

-Elias Groll

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.

-Elias Groll

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:

-Elias Groll 

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.

-Elias Groll

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

 -Hanna Kozlowska

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."

-Colum Lynch

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:


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

-Elias Groll

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."

-Colum Lynch

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."

-Shane Harris

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.

"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."

-Hanna Kozlowska

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."  

-Colum Lynch

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.

-Elias Groll

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

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What We Know So Far About the Passenger Jet Shot Down in Ukraine

Update: 6:45 p.m.

Britain's newly minted foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, called for a "U.N.-led investigation into the facts" of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, saying he was "deeply shocked" by the incident, and noting that an unknown number of British nationals were on board the plane.

"As yet, we do not have any definitive information about how this incident occurred, and I don't want to speculate at this stage," he said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office.

"This must be resolved by an international investigation," he said, adding that British authorities were still trying to determine the number of British nationals on board the plane when it crashed in Ukraine.

"We believe the United Nations, particularly the United Nations civil aviation organization, is the right body to lead that investigation," Hammond said. "We are prepared to make Air Accident Investigation Branch assets and specialists available to aid such an investigation."

-Colum Lynch

Update: 6:35 p.m.

In a televised statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine bore sole responsibility for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a "disaster" that he said would not have occurred if Kiev had not resumed its military campaign against pro-Russian separatists.  

"And without doubt the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy," he said, before adding that he had urged Russian authorities to do everything possible to help investigate the incident.

Meanwhile, the prime minister of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, Aleksandr Borodai, also weighed in on flight MH17. Borodai said the wreckage had landed near the town of Torez in eastern Ukraine and added that the Donetsk People's Republic does not possess weapons capable of shooting down a passenger plane. Beyond denying the attack, Borodai also said that the Donetsk People's Republic is committed to an impartial investigation and is willing to permit foreign investigators to inspect the crash site.   

Earlier on Thursday, the first deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic announced that MH17's black boxes will be given to Russian officials for investigation.

The White House also announced that President Obama spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday afternoon. According to a White House statement, the two men "emphasized that all evidence from the crash site must remain in place on the territory of Ukraine until international investigators are able to examine all aspects of the tragedy."

-Reid Standish

Update: 6:15 p.m.

Malaysia Airlines has identified the nationalities of a majority of the 298 people aboard Flight 17. (Earlier reports of the number of passengers and crew had put the figure at 295.) Though a comprehensive list is still to be released, among those on board were 154 Dutch citizens, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six Brits, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, and one Canadian. French officials have said there were at least four of their citizens on board the flight, but that figure has not been confirmed. Some reports have indicated there were 23 Americans on board, but the U.S. State Department has not confirmed the figure. 

-Hanna Kozlowska

Update: 5:35 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an independent probe into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine.

"There is clearly a need for a full and transparent international investigation," he told reporters at a U.N. press conference he had convened to introduce his new special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. "I am closely monitoring the reports, along with the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency."

"For the moment, I offer my deep condolences to families and loved ones of the victims and people of Malaysia," Ban added.

-Colum Lynch

Update: 4:55 p.m.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that he had spoken by phone to President Barack Obama, and that both leaders agreed only crash site investigators should have access to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17's black boxes, which could contain essential clues for determining how the plane was brought down. Earlier, pro-Russian separatists had announced their intention to hand over the jet's cockpit voice recorder and its flight data recorder to Moscow for analysis.

Razak also said that he'd spoken with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who said he would work with rebels in the eastern portion of the country to establish a "humanitarian corridor," so that investigators could reach the crash site. Razak said the Malaysian government has dispatched a flight to Kiev carrying investigators, who will arrive at the scene and "leave no stone unturned" in their efforts.

Separately, U.S. intelligence officials now say that the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile, although it remains unclear who fired it. In remarks at an event in Detroit, Vice President Joe Biden said that it appeared that the plane had been deliberately shot down.

-Shane Harris

Update: 4:35 p.m.

The Kyiv Post reports that Ukraine's main security agency, the SBU, has released recordings of intercepted phone calls between separatists and Russian military intelligence officers, in which the militants admit to shooting down the civilian plane.

"It's 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft," a militant identified as "Major" says, noting that there are no weapons on the site. "Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper." He describes the group who shot down the plane as "Cossacks."

The SBU also released a call between Igor Bezler, a separatist leader of the Donetsk People's Republic and an alleged Russian military intelligence officer, and Vasili Geranin, identified as an intelligence colonel in the headquarters of the Russian army. "We have just shot down a plane," Bezler says.

The militants on the call appear surprised that they had shot down a civilian plane. The militant identified as "Greek" inquires into what type of plane was shot down and about the passengers onboard. The other militant, "Major," says that, "It's totally f****d. The pieces are falling right into yards." Upon finding out that the flight was "100 percent" a civilian aircraft, "Greek" continues to ask questions until it is revealed that one of the passengers was an Indonesian student. If these rebels are indeed responsible for shooting down the airliner, it does not appear that they were aware that they were targeting a civilian aircraft when they fired.

The recordings of the calls, in Russian, can be heard in the video below. 

-Hanna Kozlowska

Update: 4:00 p.m.

With confusion and conflicting reports on the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, some essential facts will only be known once investigators reach the wreckage. However, it appears that Ukrainian officials and rebels are competing for control of the crash site, with the Donetsk People's Republic claiming possession of the Boeing jet's black boxes, which would have recorded the pilots' last words and may provide vital clues about what brought down the jet. The rebels have announced that they intend to deliver the boxes to Moscow.

First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Purgin of the Donetsk People's Republic promised that the black boxes will be transferred to Moscow for examination, saying that Russian officials are "highly qualified experts who will be able to accurately determine the cause of the disaster, even though it is so clear."

Commercial airlines are required to have two black box recorders on board flights, with one black box recording audio from the cockpit and another cataloguing flight information such as altitude, speed, and fuel during the flight. Having access to such information will be significant for determining what happened to the Malaysian airliner. Vladimir Puchkov, a spokesman for the Russian agency responsible for investigating plane crashes, told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency that Russian emergency services sent an official request to their Ukrainian counterparts for a joint investigation on Ukrainian territory. So far, Ukrainian officials have not responded to Russia's call for cooperation, although Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the formation of an investigative committee into who and what is responsible for MH17's destruction.

-Reid Standish

Update: 3:40 p.m.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington declined to comment on charges that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane. "Why should we comment on allegations?" the official said. The spokesman did, however, point to an article published by the Russian news service RIA Novosti suggesting that the Ukrainian military shot down the aircraft, not the rebels.

The article, which cited "reconnaissance data" supplied by an anonymous source, notes that a Ukrainian army battalion with Buk air defense systems was deployed near Donetsk on Wednesday morning, "making the downing of the aircraft by one of the missiles highly probable," the article says. The anti-aircraft system is capable of shooting down planes flying at the altitude of commercial airliners.

The source in the article also raises doubts that pro-Russian rebels could have carried out the attack, claiming that the armed militia in eastern Ukraine "does not have Buk systems." Both the Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels deny shooting down the passenger plane.

In a sign of the crisis' growing international dimensions, Britain privately called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, according to a council diplomat. The diplomat said that the session would likely take place tomorrow afternoon, but that the council's 15 members were still discussing the timing of a council meeting.

-John Hudson & Colum Lynch

Update: 3:25 p.m.

How and by whom was Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot down -- if it was shot down? That's the central question being debated in the aftermath of the plane's crash. And the discussion is centering on a medium-range Russian anti-aircraft system known as the Buk, which a Ukrainian Interior Ministry official claims was used to down the aircraft.

As we reported earlier in the day, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine claim that they lack the capability to shoot down a plane traveling at the altitude of a commercial airliner. Reports indicate that the Malaysian Airlines flight was traveling at 33,000 feet when air traffic controllers lost contact with it. Man-portable air-defense systems -- known as MANPADs -- that are in the separatists' possession lack the range to reach that altitude. But defense experts say that the Buk would have no trouble downing a plane at more than 30,000 feet.

Following the plane's crash, the rebels denied having access to the Buk, but in recent weeks, there have been widespread reports of separatists acquiring the weapon, and possibly other surface-to-air missiles, as well. On June 29, the Russian newswire ITAR-TASS reported that rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic had acquired Buk missiles. The group even tweeted about having acquired the weapons.

And while it remains unclear who may have been responsible for shooting down the plane, Buk missiles -- or weapons similar to them -- were spotted in separatist-held territory near where the plane went down. An Associated Press reporter spotted what was described as "a launcher similar to the Buk missile system" near the town of Snizhne.

On Thursday, a Twitter account associated with the Maidan protest movement in Kiev posted a photograph purporting to show a Buk launcher in the town of Torez, which is near the crash site and has been the scene of fighting between separatists and government forces.

Crucially, the Ukrainian armed forces also have the Buk missile system, which gives Russia and its proxies a measure of plausible deniability if it is confirmed that a Buk was indeed responsible for downing the Malaysian jet. According to Patrick Megahan, a research associate for military affairs at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Ukrainian military has been operating Buks in the area near the crash site, raising the possibility that Ukrainian forces made a mistake.

Still, the only known uses of Buk missiles in eastern Ukraine have been directed at government targets. "The Buk is the same system that reportedly took down a twin-engine Ukrainian military cargo plane on Monday -- an attack believed to be carried out by Russian separatists," Megahan told Foreign Policy. "It is likely the only system in their arsenal that could take down an aircraft flying at that altitude."

The missile system, designed in the Soviet era and produced in Russia, was heavily used during the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. "It's a very capable system, proven under real-world conditions," Andrew Bowen, a columnist for the Interpreter and a researcher at the political risk consultancy Wikistrat, told Foreign Policy. It's also not an easy weapon to fire, and would require some training or prior knowledge to use it. "These systems require a large amount of technical know-how, unlike these MANPADs, which are basically 'point-and-shoot,'" Bowen said.

-Elias Groll, Reid Standish, Hanna Kozlowska, and Kate Brannen

Update: 1:55 p.m.

After the reported shoot-down of a Malaysian passenger jet, major airlines say they are avoiding the area in which the plane went down. Lufthansa, Air France, Turkish Airlines, and Russian airline Aeroflot all said they will be diverting their planes from Ukrainian airspace. "Air France is monitoring the situation in real time and decided to no longer fly over eastern Ukraine after it was informed of this incident," a spokesman for Air France said, according to Reuters.

-Hanna Kozlowska

Update: 1:10 p.m.

Prior to the Malaysian Airlines jet's being shot down, pro-Russian separatist leader Igor Strelkov posted on the Russian social networking site VKontakte, claiming responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian AN-26 transport plane. However, after news emerged of the downed Malaysian Airlines plane, Strelkov's page appears to have been scrubbed of the post.

Strelkov's page claimed responsibility for taking down a Ukrainian jet and posted an accompanying video that shows smoke rising from what is now believed to be the crash site of the passenger jet. Below is a screen grab of Strelkov's VKontakte page that includes the post claiming responsibility for the downed transport plane. That post now appears to have been removed.

After reports emerged that a passenger jet had been shot down, Strelkov said that his forces were not responsible and that they lacked the capability to shoot down a plane flying at that altitude. The plane was reportedly flying at an altitude of about 33,000 feet.

Meanwhile, additional images are emerging of the crash site, including the horrifying image below, which was carried by Russian television:

 

-Elias Groll & Reid Standish

Update: 12:45 p.m.

Reports are emerging from eastern Ukraine that Russian forces may have shot down a Malaysia Airlines jet near the Ukrainian-Russian border. Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that they have lost contact with the jet, a Boeing 777 that was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 295 people on board.  

According to a report carried by the Interfax news service, citing unnamed sources in the aviation industry, the plane was shot down. 

Writing on his Facebook page, Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, blamed Russian forces for downing the jet, saying that "there is no limit of cynicism for Putin and his terrorists." He offered no direct evidence that Moscow was responsible. Gerashenko added that the plane was shot down by a Buk launcher. The Associated Press reports that rebels in Ukraine have such a system.

Public flight trackers show the flight disappearing just outside Donetsk, near the Ukrainian border with Russia, which has been the scene of intense fighting in recent weeks between Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists.

U.S. officials said they were tracking reports of the crash but had no indications whether it was or wasn't shot down. A White House spokesperson said that President Barack Obama "is aware" of the crash. Officials continue to monitor events.

Separatists in eastern Ukraine denied responsibility for shooting down the jet, saying they lacked the equipment to shoot down an airliner at the altitude a commercial passenger jet flies. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that Ukrainian forces in the area did not fire any anti-aircraft missiles in the area.

Videos circulating on social media purport to show flames rising from the crash site outside Donetsk. In the video below, villagers celebrate as smoke rises on the horizon. "It burns beautifully," one man says, in all likelihood believing that it is a Ukrainian military plane that has been shot down.

Unconfirmed photographs circulating on Twitter show debris scattered near Donetsk that appear to comes from a Malaysian Airlines jet:

 

 

Reports of the airliner's downing come on the heels of news this week that Russian forces allegedly downed a pair of Ukrainian military planes. On Thursday, the Ukrainian Security Council said that a fighter jet had been shot down by a Russian air-to-air missile. On Monday, Ukraine said a transport plane was downed by a Russian missile. In addition to reports of Russian forces firing on Ukrainian planes, reports have emerged this week showing Russian forces launching rocket strikes on Ukraine across their shared border.

-Elias Groll & Reid Standish

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images