UPDATE: Official says Plane Shot Down over Ukraine

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email

(CBS News)
KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian official said a passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down Thursday over a town in the east of the country, and Malaysian Airlines tweeted that it lost contact with one of its flights over Ukrainian airspace.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet. He also said it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 72,000 feet.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his country's armed forces didn't shoot at any airborne targets.

"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," he said. "We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."

However, Ukraine pro-Russia rebels said they didn't shoot down the airliner and blamed Ukrainian armed forces.

CBS News has not confirmed that the plane was shot down.

Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed that it "has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow." The plane's destination was Kuala Lumpur.

The FAA has prohibited U.S. carriers from flying in that area of Ukraine, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reported.

President Barack Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the plane crash during a phone call, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed.

It was the second time that a Malaysia Airlines plane had gone missing in less than six months. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 - another Boeing 777 - disappeared in March while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It has not been found, but the search has been concentrated in the Indian Ocean far west of Australia.

The Donetsk region government said Thursday's plane crashed near a village called Grabovo, which it said is currently under the control of armed pro-Russian separatists. The region where the flight was lost has seen severe fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels in recent days.

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

On Wednesday evening, a Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said Thursday, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet hit by the air-to-air missile was forced to bail after his jet was shot down.

Pro-Russia rebels, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for strikes Wednesday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely

Moscow denies Western charges that is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest in its neighbor. The Russian Defense Ministry couldn't be reached for comment Thursday about the Ukrainian jet and Russia's foreign ministry didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

On Monday, Ukrainian officials said one of their military transport planes was hit by a rocket and downed in the same area.

Rebels in conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine immediately claimed responsibility for downing the Antonov AN-26, but Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said the rocket might have been fired from inside Russia.

Heletey said the plane was flying at an altitude of 21,300 feet, which he said was too high to be reached with the weapons used by the separatists fighting government troops.

According to the Interfax reports, MH17 was hit at close to normal cruising altitude for a passenger jet, around 30,000 feet. No shoulder-fired missile is capable of effectively targeting an aircraft at that altitude, lending credence to the reports that it might have been a military air defense type missile like the self-guided Buk system cited by the Russian news agency.

At least two Russian news outlets reported at the end of June that pro-Russian rebels had seized a Ukrainian airbase in the Donestk region where Buk missile systems were located. It wasn't clear how long the rebels maintained control of the "A-1402 military base," or whether any Buk systems had been removed from it.

The NTSB, FAA and Boeing are all aware of the reports of the crashed Malaysian Airlines plane - they're still in the process of gathering information and don't have anything more to add at this time.

Boeing sent the following tweet: "Our thoughts and prayers are with those on board MH17, as well as their families and loved ones. We stand ready to provide assistance."

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