US intel says Malaysian plane shot down by missile

KIEV, Ukraine - A U.S. official says that American intelligence authorities now believe a surface-to-air missile took down a Malaysian passenger plane as it flew over eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

The official says the U.S. is still working to determine additional details about the crash, including who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukraine side of the border. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has sophisticated technologies that can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from the rocket engine.

The plane was carrying 295 people. Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Minister, says on his Facebook page the plane was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) when it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher.

A similar launcher was seen by Associated Press journalists near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne earlier Thursday.

Russian news agencies have quoted witnesses as saying they saw a plane being hit by what they thought was a rocket.

But both Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels are denying they fired a missile that brought down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane.

The plane crashed in eastern Ukraine, about 25 miles from the Russian border.

An Associated Press journalist counted at least 22 bodies at the wreckage site, which covers a wide area.

The wreckage is in a village that is currently under the control of pro-Russia separatists. It's seen severe fighting between separatists and government troops in recent days.

A Russian news agency quoted a leader of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia rebels as saying they intend to call a three-day cease fire to allow an investigation of the crash.

The RIA-Novosti agency on Thursday quoted rebel leader Alexander Borodai as saying discussions were underway with Ukrainian authorities on calling the short truce for humanitarian reasons. He said international organizations would be allowed into the conflict-plagued region.

Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, says it lost contact with a plane over Ukrainian airspace. MH17 was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

A Kremlin statement early Friday said Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a meeting with his economic advisers by calling for a moment of silence over the crash.

Then, he said, "This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

An earlier statement from the Kremlin said Putin and President Barack Obama had discussed the crash. It gave no further details about what the leaders discussed with regard to the plane crash.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned U.S. pilots earlier this year not to fly over portions of the Ukraine in the Crimea region, according to notices posted on the agency's website.

The notices were posted on April 23. The U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization and the aviation authorities in most countries issue similar notices for areas where unrest or military conflict creates a risk of being shot down.

Within hours, several airlines, including Lufthansa and KLM, released statements Thursday saying they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.

 

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