A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in a rebel-controlled part of eastern
The Boeing 777 with 298 people aboard fell from the sky near the town of
A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, the senior
The Obama administration believes
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the plane never made a distress call.
He called for an international team to have full access to the crash site.
Ukrainian officials maintained that pro-Russian separatists were behind the crash.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said
"This tragedy would not have happened, if there had been peace on that land, or in any case, if military operations in southeastern
Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said he based his allegation on intercepts of phone conversations between the two officers. "Now you know who carried out this crime. We will do everything for the Russian military who carried out this crime to be punished," he told reporters.
The jet plunged toward the ground in a fireball, leaving a trail of black smoke behind in the sky.
Emergency crews scrambled to what witnesses described as a staggering scene of death and utter destruction.
"People said the plane kind of exploded in the air, and that everything rained down in bits and pieces, the plane itself, the people inside," said Noah Sneider, an American freelance journalist who interviewed witnesses at the scene.
Charred wreckage stretched for kilometers, he said. Stunned rescue workers and rebel fighters combed the area, Sneider said, planting sticks with white cotton ribbons where they found bodies in the fields.
There were many bodies left to be found as night fell, he said, and people were trying to figure out what to do next.
Locals in the rural area trying to help were overwhelmed, he said. Firemen who rushed to put out the flames found they had a hose with holes in it, spraying water everywhere, he said.
"One man said to me, 'Nothing's happened in this village for 30 years, and now this,'" Sneider said.
As details emerge, accusations fly
Details -- and accusations -- quickly poured in about Thursday's crash, which came the same week that Ukrainian officials said a Russian fighter shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane while the aircraft was in Ukrainian airspace.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said in a Facebook post that "terrorists" fired on the plane operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the crash as a "terrorist action."
"We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, according to his website.
CNN's Richard Quest, an aviation expert, said that it would be "extremely unusual" for an airliner at nearly
From the ground, one could simply look up and tell whether a plane was a commercial aircraft, he said. "So something is absolutely appalling that's gone on here."
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that
"They will be on their way rapidly to see if we can get to the bottom of this," he said.
Biden said the plane was apparently shot down, adding "not an accident, blown out of the sky."
The route the Malaysian plane was on, between
Tensions have been high between
Ukrainian forces have been struggling to quell the separatist unrest.
The Pentagon said Wednesday that
On Thursday, CNN reported that Ukrainian officials said a Russian fighter shot down a Ukrainian jet Wednesday as the jet flew in Ukrainian airspace.
Tensions are high over that incident, separate from the breaking news of the Malaysian flight Thursday.
Three months ago, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited
Aviation experts cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Thursday's crash at this early stage.
But all agreed that a massive investigation should be launched, involving parties not involved in the conflict between
The families of people on board will demand a transparent international investigation, and so will the global community, Quest said.
In the coming days, finding and examining the plane's data recorders will be key -- but the fact that the crash occurred in such a volatile region makes what comes next anything but certain, CNN aviation analyst and pilot Miles O'Brien said.
"The big question will be, in whose hands will they fall, and will this be a really objective, international investigation?" he said.
The wreckage path, O'Brien said, will reveal a lot. If a plane breaks up in midair, which is likely what would happen in a missile strike, there would be a large swath of wreckage, he said, but if it breaks down due to mechanical failure, the debris field would be more concentrated.