On July 17, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit with a surface-to-air missile and fell from the sky in Ukraine, close to the Russian border. The Boeing 777 was carrying 283 passengers -- three infants -- and 15 crew members. All were said to have perished.
The downing of this commercial flight has sparked many unanswered questions, and escalated tensions in a region of the world gripped with sectarian violence. Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a deadly conflict since Ukrainian protestors ousted their previous pro-Russia leader, and Russia annexed the Crimea region. Pro-Russian rebels control areas near the border -- including where the plane landed -- and the United States believes that 12,000 Russian troops are stationed along the Russia-Ukraine border. The day prior to the crash, July 16, President Obama announced even more stringent sanctions against Russia.
Here is what we know about the crash:
- Surveillance satellite data revealed the impact and later the trail of the missile that downed MH17. It did not, however, capture the "point of origin," the New York Times reports.
- Thus far all parties have denied responsibility. However, they have been quick to point fingers at each other.
- Shortly after the plane went down, separatist rebels told Interfax, a Russian news service, "We simply do not have such air defense systems."
- Russia, too, has denied involvement. The defense ministry posted a statement on their website: “In view of various types of speculation concerning operations of the Russian armed forces in the areas bordering Ukraine, we affirm that the anti-aircraft means of the Russian armed forces did not operate in that region on July 17.”
- The Ukrainian government is blaming pro-Russian rebels, and claims to have audio to prove it. President Petro Poroshenko called it an act of terrorism. He gave an early-Friday speech calling for action, according to the Washington Post: “This is a crime against humanity. All red lines have been already crossed. This is the deadline. We ask our international partners to call an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and to [do] everything we can to stop this war: a war against Ukraine, a war against Europe, and after these terrorists shot down a Malaysian aircraft, this is the war against the world.” Poroshenko also stated: “Everyone is to be accountable and responsible. I mean everyone who supports these terrorists, including Russians and the Russian regime.”
- According to the New York Times, United States officials suspect a Russian-made SA-11 or SA-20 missile took down the plane; however, there is no official confirmation.
- Malaysia Airlines is defending its decision to fly over this area of Ukraine.
- World leaders including President Obama, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have called for a full investigation.
- However, the investigation is complicated due to the fact that the plane went down in an area of Ukraine held by the rebels. Bodies and debris have already been collected from the site.
- There are conflicting reports about the plane's black box recording device. An advisor to the Donetsk regional governor said that Ukrainian Emergency Services Ministry workers had recovered the voice and data recorder. However, the pro-Russian rebel Aleksandr Borodai also said that his group had the black box. The rebels, according to the New York Times, were planning to turn the recording device over to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
- According to the Washington Post, on Friday morning a separatist leader, Andriy Purgin, said that the rebels were ready to call a two- to four-day truce to allow investigators access to the crash.
- 298 people (including three infants) were on board the plane: 283 passengers and 15 flight crew.
- According to New York Times, a Malaysia Airlines official released the nationalities of those identified: There were "154 Dutch passengers; 45 Malaysians, including the crew; and 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Belgians, four Germans, three Filipinos and one Canadian."
- The Washington Post is reporting that an Australian woman, who lost her brother and sister-in-law when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared, lost her stepdaughter in the crash of MH17.
- Among those on board were several AIDS researchers, including the renowned Joep Lange. They were Australia bound for the 2014 AIDS conference in Melbourne.*