Accusations fly as investigators seek answers in MH17 crash
(CNN) — Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Friday blasted the “terrorists” he blamed for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine a day earlier, with 298 people aboard.
He called on all governments to back the investigation and “to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime.”
Since the Malaysia Airlines jet fell from the sky above eastern Ukraine on Thursday, Russia and Ukraine — which routinely uses the word “terrorists” to describe pro-Russian separatists — have traded blame and accusations.
“Terrorists have killed almost 300 persons with one shot,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday. “Among them are women, children, citizens of different countries of the world.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed the finger back at Ukraine, blaming its recent tough military operations against separatists for the volatility in the region.
But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin rejected that claim, telling CNN it was up to Russia to stop the flow of heavy weaponry across Ukraine’s eastern border and push the separatists to embrace a cease-fire.
Yatsenyuk called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to be held and for all nations to do everything they could to stop what he said was not now just a war in Ukraine or Europe, but a “war against the world.”
Meanwhile, international inspectors headed to the crash site Friday to undertake the grim search for the plane’s flight data recorders amid the human remains and debris strewn across fields near the town of Torez.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a cease-fire to allow a swift, independent investigation into what happened, adding that “there are many indications that it was a shot or rocket fired at the plane.”
Monitors head to crash site
A helicopter ferried a group of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to rebel territory in the Donetsk region. They planned to continue by car to the crash site near Torez.
“We may be the first international group allowed to go through rebel territory to the site,” said Michael Bociurkiw, who was traveling with about 30 colleagues.
Klimkin said that Ukrainian authorities and OSCE monitors would be allowed access to the site after negotiations with the separatists.
There have been conflicting reports over whether the plane’s data recorders have already been recovered by rescue workers or separatists. Ukrainian officials have suggested separatists may seek to take them to Moscow.
An adviser to Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Heraschenko was quoted by Ukraine’s Interfax news agency Friday as saying that the missile launcher used to down the Malaysian plane is already in Russia and will be destroyed.
The “Buk” launcher, as well as the flight data recorders from MH17, were handed over to Russian agents across the border at a checkpoint in the Luhansk area overnight, Heraschenko claimed, citing Ukrainian intelligence sources.
Ukraine’s state security chief has also accused two Russian military intelligence officers of involvement in Thursday’s events. Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said he based his allegation on intercepts of phone conversations between Russian officers, saying the conversation implicates the pro-Russian side.
CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the recording.
Ukrainian officials reported earlier this week that two Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down in the country’s east. They accused a Russian fighter of shooting down a Ukrainian jet Wednesday and said Russian weapons had been used against an An-26 military transport plane Monday.
‘Outrage against human decency’
If the pro-Russian separatists did shoot down Flight 17, the jet’s passengers and crew are innocent casualties in Ukraine’s separatist armed crisis.
The passengers and crew hailed from all over the world, including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Germany and Canada. Shortly after the plane fell from the sky, international leaders scrambled to confirm how many of their citizens were aboard.
The United States has not said whether its citizens were among the passengers, but the diversity of the victims’ nationalities turned the crash into a global tragedy. No survivors have been found.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai offered his condolences Friday to the families of those aboard the downed plane and said Malaysia would support them.
The full passenger list will be released once all the next-of-kin have been contacted, he said. More than half of those who lost their lives were from the Netherlands, from where the flight set off for Malaysia.
If reports that the jet was shot down are confirmed, “it would contravene international law and be an outrage against human decency,” the minister said, speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
“Malaysia condemns any such action in the strongest possible terms, and calls for those responsible to be swiftly brought to justice.”
He defended the routing of the Malaysia Airlines plane over a conflict area, saying other carriers were sending their aircraft through the same airspace above Ukraine in the hours before MH17 came down.
Malaysia’s transport minister said Ukraine would lead the investigation.
‘Blown out of the sky’
Leaders and diplomats from around the world are pleading for investigators’ access to the disputed region.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Ukraine’s President had accepted an offer of U.S. experts to help investigate the crash.
The plane was apparently shot down,”not an accident, blown out of the sky,” Biden said Thursday.
“It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible,” the White House said in a statement.
A senior U.S. official said the United States has concluded that a missile shot down the plane but has not placed any blame.
A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, the senior U.S. official said. A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official said. The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from, the official said.
The Obama administration believes Ukraine did not have the capability in the region — let alone the motivation — to shoot down the plane, a U.S. official told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
But the White House placed some blame on Russia and warned that evidence must not be tampered with.
“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,” it said in a statement.
But defense expert and retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan said Ukraine and Russia both have the missile capability to shoot down such an aircraft at such an altitude.
Who was on the plane?
The 15 crew members on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all Malaysian nationals, officials said.
Malaysia Airlines also gave a breakdown of the known nationalities of the 283 passengers: 154 were Dutch, 28 were Australian, 28 were Malaysian, 12 were Indonesian, nine were from the United Kingdom, four were from Germany, four were from Belgium, three were from the Philippines, one was Canadian and one was from Hong Kong.
But Dutch Security and Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten says there were 173 Dutch citizens aboard Flight 17.
Authorities were still trying to determine the nationalities of the other passengers.
The International AIDS Society said in a statement that “a number” of its members were on the plane on the way to a conference in Melbourne, Australia.
“At this incredibly sad and sensitive time, the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy,” the statement said.
The plane was headed to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, which is a common route, CNN aviation safety consultant Mary Schiavo said. She said that the plane was flying over a troubled area and that close communication with air traffic controllers would be a key necessity.
In hostile or disputed areas, “any alteration from your course, and you can have a problem,” Schiavo said.
Tensions have been high between Ukraine and Russia since street protests forced former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February. Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine’s southeastern Crimea region, and a pro-Russian separatist rebellion has been raging in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Ukrainian forces have been struggling to quell the separatist unrest. Ukraine’s government has accused Russia of allowing weapons and military equipment, including tanks, to cross the border illegally into the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
Three months ago, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying in areas not far from where Flight 17 reportedly crashed Thursday.
“Due to the potential for conflicting air traffic control instructions from Ukrainian and Russian authorities and for the related potential misidentification of civil aircraft, United States flight operations are prohibited until further notice in the airspace over Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov,” the FAA said in April. Thursday’s plane crash was scores of miles north-northeast of the Sea of Azov.
Various nations, including France, ordered their airlines to avoid Ukrainian airspace until the cause of crash is known.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure announced Friday that the airspace over the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk, Luhansk and part of Kharkiv where separatists are operating had been closed indefinitely.
Merkel stressed Friday that Russia must do more to ease the crisis in Ukraine.
“Russia is largely responsible for what’s happening in the Ukraine now, and I would make an appeal — that the Russian President and the Russian government should make a contribution so that a political solution can be found,” she said.
European Union leaders agreed this week to expand sanctions against individuals and entities in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, with details to be decided by the end of the month. Expanded U.S. sanctions were also announced in Washington.
Thursday’s crash marks the second time this year that Malaysia Airlines has faced an incident involving a downed plane.
On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people on board. Searchers have found no trace of the Boeing 777 or its passengers despite extensive search efforts.
Flight 370 probably flew into the southern Indian Ocean on autopilot with an unresponsive crew, Australian authorities said last month.
During the early phase of the search for Flight 370, aircraft and ships scoured vast stretches of the surface of the southern Indian Ocean but found no debris.
Pings initially thought to be from the missing plane’s flight recorders led to a concentrated underwater search that turned up nothing.
A new underwater search is expected to begin farther south in August. It will be broadly in an area where planes and vessels had already looked for debris on the surface of the water.