A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashed in eastern Ukraine Thursday, and was widely suspected to have been shot down by forces on the ground.
“We have this information. A Boeing 777 traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala-Lampur crashed north of Torez [in eastern Ukraine],” Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told RIA Novosti news agency. The flight was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members.
Although there was no direct evidence pointing to the cause of the crash, Ukrainian officials voiced suspicions that it was deliberately shot down by pro-Russian separatist forces in the east of the country. Ukraine had earlier claimed a Russian military plane shot down a Ukrainian jet fighter Wednesday night.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said separatist rebels were using a surface-to-air missile provided to them by the Russians. “There is no limit to the cynicism of Putin and his terrorists!” he said, in a Russian language Facebook post.
Rebel groups said they did not have any weapons in their arsenal capable of hitting a plane at 33,000ft, Interfax reports, and suggested the Ukrainian military had shot down the plane.
Malaysia Airlines released a statement Thursday afternoon confirming it had lost contact with MH17 over Ukrainian airspace, approximately 30 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border. The FAA banned U.S. carriers from flying over eastern Ukraine and Crimea on April 25.
Flight tracking shows the plane’s last recorded location in Ukraine at 8:11 am, shortly after the Polish border. A source told Interfax that the Boeing 777 suddenly began declining 50km before entering Russian airspace and was found burning on the ground.
The White House said that President Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, who informed him of the crash. The Malaysian Prime Minister also made a statement on Twitter expressing shock at the crash:
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March, inspiring round-the-clock news coverage and an ongoing international hunt for the plane, which is believed to be in the Indian Ocean.
With reporting by Simon Shuster and Zeke J. Miller