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Malaysia Airlines 777 crashes over Ukraine: missile strike suspected

ATW Daily News by Karen Walker, Jens Flottau and Amy Butler 17 Jul.14

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER with 280 passengers and 15 crew crashed Thursday in Ukraine, killing everyone on board and sparking a massive international political crisis as evidence pointed to the aircraft being shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Flight MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that “it received notification from Ukrainian ATC that it had lost contact with flight MH17 … approximately 50 km from the Russia-Ukraine border.”

The flight departed Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. local time and was operating a codeshare with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The majority of the passengers were Dutch.

The aircraft was cruising at 33,000 ft. when contact was lost. Wreckage and bodies are strewn across a wide area on the ground.

FAA issued a statement saying it has been in contact with US carriers following the crash and that carriers have voluntarily agreed not to operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border. “FAA is monitoring the situation to determine whether further guidance is necessary,” the statement said. Most major airlines that fly in the area, a common routing between European cities and Southeast Asia, also announced they would avoid the area.

FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) in April prohibiting US flight operations until further notice in the airspace over the Crimean region of Ukraine, and portions adjacent to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which have become war zones in the Ukrainian crisis. The NOTAM does not currently cover the airspace where MH17 crashed.

According to ATW sister publication Aviation Week, which quoted a US government official source, Ukrainian officials have suggested the weapon was an SA-11, a mobile air defense system. "We know that a missile was fired. It is uncertain from what exact location," the source told Aviation Week. “The question is, was it [launched from] the far Eastern tip of Ukraine or possibly from Russia?”

There has been intense fighting in the region between the Ukrainian military and separatists since Russia annexed Crimea in the spring. Two military aircraft, an Antonov An-26 and a Sukhoi Su-25, were shot down in the region recently.

The crash comes less than six months after the disappearance of another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200. MH370 disappeared from radar in March shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on a routine night flight. A massive international search mission continues in the South Indian Ocean for that aircraft.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia Airlines will dispatch a special flight to Kiev/Ukraine. He has been told by Ukrainian authorities that the aircraft has been shot down. According to Razak, the aircraft did not make a distress call. US Vice President Joe Biden said that the aircraft was “blown out of the sky.” And the Ukrainian Foreign Minister stated in an interview that his government had proof the aircraft was shot down by pro-Russian separatists.