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MH17 victims' bodies are stuck at the railway station in refrigerated trucks (LIVE BLOG)

No one has yet to officially take responsibility for the downing of MH17, just 30 miles short of Russian airspace.

MhairlinewreckageEnlarge
Men search the wreckage of a commercial passenger plane that was shot by a missile on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. (Brendan Hoffman/AFP/Getty Images)

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: MALAYSIAN JET REPORTEDLY SHOT DOWN IN UKRAINE

UPDATE: 7/20/14 11:17 PM ET

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Check back in the morning for more updates.

UPDATE: 7/20/14 10:30 PM ET

Bodies stuck at the railway station

The New York Times reports:

TOREZ, Ukraine — Three wrenching days after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the bodies of most of those aboard have ended up here, in a fly-infested railway station in a rough coal-mining town in eastern Ukraine.

For now, they are stuck, lying in five gray refrigerated train cars in this rebel-controlled war zone, hostages to high politics and mutual distrust.

The government in Kiev has accused the Russian-backed rebels who control the area of blocking access to the bodies and the crash site and delaying what is already a very painful process for the families of the dead.

The rebels insist they are cooperating, and say they want to turn the 247 bodies they had recovered as of Sunday over to international representatives. But they say those officials have not arrived; the rebels accuse the Ukrainian government of scaring the officials off, though European officials have disputed that claim.

UPDATE: 7/20/14 5:07 PM ET

US says it has evidence Ukraine rebels downed MH17 with weapons from Russia

US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out "extraordinary circumstantial evidence" Sunday that Ukrainian pro-Russian rebels were behind the downing of a Malaysian jet hit by weapons obtained from Russia.

US intelligence suggests that a sophisticated SA11 missile system was used to bring down flight MH17 on Thursday as it flew at some 33,000 feet over Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Kerry said. 

"It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists," Kerry told CNN as he blitzed the Sunday television talk shows.

"We know with confidence, with confidence, that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time. So it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists."

UPDATE: 7/20/14 12:00 PM ET

Ukraine rebels stashed crash victim remains in refrigerated trucks

Rebel leader Aleksandr Boroda said bodies which have been removed from the crash site will be kept in refrigerated carriages on a train near the scene.

He said his teams had taken the corpses away from the crash site "out of respect for the families" and because "it is becoming inhumane in these conditions."

"We couldn't wait any longer because of the heat and also because there are many dogs and wild animals in the zone," he added.

International monitors have viewed the bodies located in the refrigerated wagons near the crash site.

UPDATE: 7/20/14 11:52 AM ET

Ukraine rebels have the black boxes

The self-proclaimed leader of a separatist region in eastern Ukraine says the so-called black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 have been found and will be given to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Aleksandr Borodai, the self-styled prime minister of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic," said at a press conference in Donetsk on July 20 that pro-Russian separatists have what appear to be the black boxes from the airliner, which crashed on July 17.

Borodai said rebel forces had recovered "some items, presumably the black boxes," and said they would be handed over to "international experts if they arrive."

Read more at Radio Free Europe.

UPDATE: 7/20/14 9:22 AM ET

EU threatens more sanctions on Russia

France, Britain and Germany warned Russia Sunday it could face further EU sanctions if it did not press pro-Kremlin separatists in Ukraine to allow unfettered access to the crash site of flight MH17.

Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and David Cameron held a conference call Sunday morning to discuss the situation.

Concerns have been mounting that the separatists are blocking access to key evidence and to the bodies of the passengers, scores of which were moved from the crash site by train on Sunday.

"They ... agreed that the EU must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday," a spokesman for Downing Street said in a statement, adding that Cameron was due to speak to Vladimir Putin later Sunday.

A French presidency statement about the three-way conference call similarly warned that "consequences" would be drawn at Tuesday's meeting "if Russia does not immediately take the necessary measures."

The presidency said the three leaders had agreed to call on Putin to pressure the rebels into allowing rescuers and investigators "free and total access to the site of the MH17 flight disaster to accomplish their mission."

"Russia must understand that resolving the Ukrainian crisis is more than ever an imperative after this tragedy which has outraged the entire world," it added.

UPDATE: 7/20/14 9:09 AM ET

US says Russia gave the missile launchers to Ukrainian rebels

The United States believes Moscow provided Ukrainian rebels with the missile launchers that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, and moved them back into Russia after it was hit, US newspapers reported late Saturday.

A US official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Washington Post intelligence services were "starting to get indications... a little more than a week ago" that three Russian launchers had been moved into Ukraine.

The Post said Vitaly Nayda, Ukraine's counterintelligence chief, had photographs and related evidence that three Buk M-1 antiaircraft missile systems moved from rebel-held territory into Russia early Friday, less than 12 hours after the plane was downed.

"We do believe they were trying to move back into Russia at least three Buk [missile launch] systems," the US official told the Post.

UPDATE: 7/20/14 3:02 AM ET

Ukraine and rebels agree on a security zone around crash site

Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists agreed Saturday to set up a security zone around the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet to allow the orderly removal of the bodies of 298 people killed in the shootdown of Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine two days ago.

In Kyiv, Ukrainian Security Service head Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said in televised remarks Saturday that trilateral talks, involving Russia, had agreed on a 7-square-mile security zone "so that Ukraine could fulfill the most important thing — identify the bodies (and) hand them over to relatives," Ukrinform reports.

The announcement of an agreement followed charges by Ukraine that local militia in the restive eastern Ukraine region near the Russian border had removed at least 38 bodies from the crash site near the village of Hrabove.

UPDATE: 7/19/14 4:16 PM ET

Malaysia Airlines is offering refunds for any tickets to fly this year

Following the destruction of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which is believed to have been blown out of the sky over eastern Ukraine, shares in the airline’s stock closed down 11 percent at the end of Friday.

The airline has now said that it will offer anyone with a ticket to fly this year a refund — regardless of when it was purchased — if they call before July 24.

A kind gesture for their customers, but perhaps not so good for the bottom line. Over the past five years, the airline has lost 92 percent of its value.

Read the rest at Quartz.

UPDATE: 7/19/14 3:28 PM ET

What the crash site looks like today

A group of coal miners takes a break after searching fields looking for remnants of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 on July 19, 2014 in Grabovo, Ukraine.

 
 

People look at debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 which landed in a field of sunflowers on July 19, 2014 in Rassipnoye, Ukraine. 

 
 

A man looks at debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 on July 19, 2014 in Rassipnoye.

 

 

 

The scene of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 at sunset after pro-Russia separatist fighters established control of the site on July 19, 2014.

 

UPDATE: 7/19/14 2:42 PM ET

EU nations considering tougher stance on Russia

More from GlobalPost's Paul Ames:

The Dutch government is expressing mounting outrage at the way Russian-backed fighters are treating the crash site. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague he was "shocked by images of totally disrespectful behaviour" which he called "downright disgusting."

Rutte said he'd had an "intense" and "very personal" conversation with Putin, urging him to use his influence with the pro-Russian separatists to ensure the remains of Dutch victims could be repatriated as soon as possible.

In Kyiv, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said the Dutch people were "furious" at reports of the separatists' behavior at the site. "As soon as we receive proof, we will not rest until those guilty are put to trial — not only those who pulled the trigger, but also those who made it possible," Timmermans said.

There are growing signs the Dutch are moving towards reversing their long-standing opposition towards a tougher European Union stance on Russia's destabilization of Ukraine.

In a statement after a phone conversation with Rutte, British Prime Minister David Cameron said both were agreed "the EU will need to reconsider its approach to Russia in light of evidence that pro-Russian separatists brought down the plane."

Others in the EU are still urging caution. French President Francois Hollande, on a trip to West Africa, told reporters action should wait until an international investigation confirms who shot down the plane. "If we want to have a follow up, if we want to have consequences, it has to be based on certitudes," he said. "I'm waiting for the results of the international inquiry."

 

UPDATE: 7/19/14 12:56 PM ET

Widespread confusion at the crash site

GlobalPost's Dan Peleschuk reports:

MOSCOW –– The war of words over the downed Malaysian Airlines jet intensified on Saturday after Ukrainian officials accused separatist rebels in the country’s war-torn east of obstructing the investigation and tampering with evidence.

In a statement, Ukraine’s government claimed the rebels had moved 38 bodies to a morgue in the regional capital of Donetsk and were looking to transport pieces of the shattered aircraft –– believed to have been shot down on Thursday evening –– to Russia.

“The government officially states: the terrorists, with Russia’s support, are attempting to destroy the evidence of this international crime,” the statement read, referring to the rebels.

“We urge the international community to oblige Russia to withdraw its terrorists from Ukraine and to allow the Ukrainian and international experts to hold a comprehensive investigation of the tragedy."

Those charges were partially bolstered by claims from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that its investigators have received only limited access to the crash site, where remnants of the plane remain scattered across a wide swath of rebel-held territory and guarded by separatist gunmen.

Journalists on the scene have reported what appears to be widespread confusion at the crash site, with a lack of cordons and security zones as well as slipshod handling of the bodies, which photos posted to social media showed were either stacked along a road or left under the sweltering sun.

More disturbingly, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council claimed on Twitter that rebels have looted corpses and are using credit cards snatched from the victims –– although the veracity of these claims remains in question, since few Ukrainian officials have been able to visit the site.

In Kyiv, a top Ukrainian intelligence official said at a press conference on Saturday that authorities have pinpointed the exact location from which the rocket was supposedly fired.

Vitaliy Naida, head of counterintelligence at the Security Service of Ukraine, also said his agency has “irrefutable evidence” that a Russian citizen was involved in the strike, allegedly carried out by the “Buk” anti-aircraft missile system he alleged came from Russia.

Naida also produced what he said was photo evidence depicting the movement of several missile systems across the Donetsk Region, as well as a photo of the supposed missile contrail near the town of Torez. He added that several Buk systems had crossed into Russia overnight on Friday, only hours after the Malaysian Airlines crash.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Saturday his government would seek international support to declare the two separatist quasi-statelets in eastern Ukraine –– the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics –– “terrorist” organizations.

UPDATE: 7/19/14 11:00 AM ET

Ukraine accuses pro-Russian rebels of trying to destroy evidence at crash site

Ukraine's government accused pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine of trying to destroy evidence at the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed and of removing 38 bodies from the scene.

"The government of Ukraine officially states that the terrorists, with the help of Russia, are trying to destroy evidence of international crimes," the government said in a statement on Saturday.

UPDATE: 7/19/14 10:17 AM ET

Crash site still not secured

From Reuters:

Rebels and international observers have yet to agree on a security zone around the site where a Malaysian airliner crashed in eastern Ukraine, they said on Saturday, complicating efforts to secure evidence.

Ensuring the security of the site, where all 298 passengers were killed when the Boeing 777 crashed, is crucial to preserving evidence needed to piece together what, and who, caused it to plunge into the steppe on Thursday.

UPDATE: 7/19/14 8:00 AM ET

Sorrow turns to anger in the Netherlands

GlobalPost's Paul Ames reports:

The Netherlands' biggest selling daily De Telegraaf has a single word headline today: "MURDERERS," posted above a page of photos showing pro-Russian toughs on and around the Malaysian Airlines crash site.

Sorrow at the death of the 154 Dutch citizens on flight MH17 is turning to anger in the Netherlands as evidence mounts that Russian, or pro-Russian, fighters were responsible for shooting down the airliner.

That will make it very hard for the Dutch government to maintain its position as one of the staunchest opponents of a tougher European response to Moscow's destabilization of Ukraine.

Together with the likes of Italy, Cyprus and Hungary, the Netherlands has been among the European Union nations most reluctant to impose tougher sanctions.

Although Prime Minister Mark Rutte and other EU leaders have been cautious about assigning blame before an investigation, it's clear the Dutch will have to take a stronger position.

"Let me be crystal-clear about this,” Rutte said Friday. “Should it emerge that it was an attack, I will personally see to it that the perpetrators are brought to justice ... We will not rest until they have been brought to book."

The Netherlands has a close business relationship with Russia. Russian companies and the oligarchs that run them are among the biggest fans of Dutch laws granting tax breaks to foreigners that park their cash in the Netherlands.

Together with Ireland, Cyprus and Luxembourg, the Netherlands represented over three-quarters of foreign direct investment into Russia in 2012, according to recent data from the Russian central bank — a total of $39.717 billion. Much of it is believed to be Russian money "recycled" through the Netherlands to avoid taxes.

If the Dutch were to crackdown on Russian use of its tax loopholes, it could encourage other European countries to also take tougher measures even at the risk of hurting their own economies.

There is plenty of scope for action, from France freezing plans to equip Russia with two high-tech warships; Britain limiting Russian access to London's financial center; Germany reducing its $27 billion investments in Russia; or Italy re-thinking plans for a new pipeline through southeastern Europe that will increase Europe's dependence on Russian energy exports.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 4:25 PM ET

UN aviation body says it's not responsible for issuing warnings about dangers

Reuters — The UN civil aviation body on Friday said it was not responsible for issuing warnings about potential dangers such as military conflicts, saying that duty fell to individual nations.

"The International Civil Aviation Authority does not declare airspace safe or unsafe or undertake any other direct operational responsibilities with respect to civilian air services," said ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin.

Malaysia's transport minister said earlier that ICAO had shut down a route over eastern Ukraine after a Malaysian airliner was shot down on Thursday, killing almost 300 people. ICAO said it did not have the power to open or shut routes.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 4:14 PM ET

How can the US respond?

GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie writes:

The strain of the past 24 hours was clearly visible in Barack Obama’s face Friday morning as he addressed the press on the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

“This was a global tragedy,” the president said. “There has to be a credible international investigation into what happened. The UN Security Council has endorsed this investigation, and we will hold all its members, including Russia, to their word.”

Obama called for an immediate cease-fire in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine to facilitate the recovery of the victims and the inspection of evidence. But inspecting the area has been difficult. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they could not gain secure access to the crash site Friday and will try again Saturday.

Obama said one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, has been confirmed dead. The Netherlands lost 189 citizens, while Canada, Germany, the UK, Malaysia, Indonesia and others all had citizens aboard the flight.

The president called for patience as the investigation goes forward. “We have to be sure that we don’t get out ahead of the facts,” he said in an answer to a reporter’s question. “We don’t know exactly what happened.”

But Obama did stress that Russia has to answer in some way for what happened.

Read the full piece here.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 2:20 PM ET

Radar maps show how airlines feel about Ukrainian airspace now

Ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed yesterday in eastern Ukraine — reportedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists — many airlines have been avoiding Ukrainian airspace and some have suspended flights to Kyiv.

Need an illustration of what that looks like? Here:


(Screengrab/Flightradar24)

That's a radar image from Flightradar24 showing airspace above Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa around noon on July 18. Note the empty space above Ukraine.

See more striking flightpath images.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 1:20 PM ET

A major loss for AIDS research

There have been varying reports today about how many AIDS researchers were traveling on MH17 for an annual conference in Australia. The latest, from the Washington Post, suggests fewer than 10 were onboard.

But among the named dead were some of the world's greatest minds and voices working to fight the disease, including renowned Dutch researcher Joep Lange and longtime WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas.

The Gates Foundation, a major funder of anti-AIDS initiative worldwide, expressed its regret on Twitter:

UPDATE: 7/18/14 1:10 PM ET

You'd hate to be Putin right now

GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports from Moscow that while details surrounding the Malaysia Airlines crash remain murky, the world is already fuming at Russia:

Fallout from the crash of flight MH17 — which killed all 298 passengers — is consolidating international anger at Moscow over its alleged support of the separatist rebels in Ukraine, and appears to mark a watershed moment in a months-long crisis that had earlier left much of the West stumped over how to respond.

While the war of words is bound to intensify, with Russia and Ukraine trading accusations of responsibility for the disaster, many observers say the Kremlin should be prepared to pay for the incident.

Read the rest of Dan's report.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 12:57 PM ET

'Russia isn't an immutable force'

GlobalPost Europe editor Greg Feifer penned an impassioned reminder for us all:

In the debate about what to do about Russia, it’s important to remember that Moscow isn’t an immutable force whose will shouldn’t be crossed, but a state manipulated largely by a single very shrewd, cynical, selfish criminal. History is often dictated by contingencies: the path of Russia’s retreat after a decade of westernization under Boris Yeltsin wasn’t inevitable, but more than anything the result of Putin’s leadership.

So, too, the debate about American motives over Ukraine shouldn’t be couched solely in terms of US interests. Washington certainly pursues its interests in foreign policy, but it’s also pushing democracy, free speech and transparency, which directly benefit Ukrainians.

Regarding Russia as an untouchable power echoes Cold War thinking — not the sense that Moscow must be seen as an enemy, but that it’s too dangerous to be opposed, something Putin has spent more than a decade trying to prove. Judging by the Western failure to adequately respond to his actions in Ukraine — not to mention Syria and elsewhere — it looks like he’s succeeded.

That’s not to say that Russia doesn’t have the right to defend its interests — of course it does. But that’s not the main issue here. The question is whether a sovereign people have a right to determine their own future by building a society that strives to provide universal rights, democracy and openness. Surely Ukrainians deserve that every bit as much as Americans do.

Read the rest of his column here.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 12:41 PM ET

Shock and grief in Europe as names and stories of the dead roll in

Leaders across Europe expressed shock and sadness Friday as the names of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17’s dead came rolling in and witnesses reported horrific scenes from the wreckage, GlobalPost senior correspondent Corinne Purtill reports. From London, she writes about some of the victims:

Britons killed on the plane included Glenn Thomas, a press officer for the World Health Organization and a former BBC journalist; Richard Mayne, a 20-year-old Leeds University graduate beginning his gap year; and John Alder and Liam Sweeney, two ardent Newcastle United fans traveling to the soccer team’s exhibition games in New Zealand.

“Both men were dedicated supporters of our Club and were known to thousands of fans and staff alike,” Newcastle United said in a condolence statement. The team will wear black armbands during the games in New Zealand in honor of the pair.

Flags across the Netherlands were lowered in tribute to nearly 200 Dutch citizens killed on the plane — as the news site Vox pointed out, a greater percentage of the Netherlands’ population than the US lost on 9/11.

Several high-profile Dutch were among the victims, including Senator Willem Witteveen and Joep Lange, an internationally recognized HIV researcher who was on his way to an AIDS conference in Australia.

A battered Lonely Planet guide to Bali was photographed among the wreckage, scattered across miles of wheat fields in eastern Ukraine.

Many of the dead were holidaymakers, like Cor Schilder, a musician, and his girlfriend, florist Neeltje Tol. As a joke, Schilder snapped a photograph of the plane at the airport and posted it to his Facebook wall, with the words, “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like.”

In Australia, Kaylene Mann of Brisbane lost her stepdaughter and her stepdaughter’s husband on the flight — after her brother and sister-in-law vanished on Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in March, the Times reported.

There were also close calls.

A couple and their infant son were booked on MH17 but were bumped to a KLM flight at the last minute for lack of seats.

Speaking to reporters at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, Barry Sim of Scotland was circumspect about his family’s near-miss.

"In my mind, lightning never strikes twice in the same place so I am still philosophical that you get on the flight and you go about your life,” he said.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 12:30 PM ET

Clinton wants to 'put Putin on notice'; Europe feels the pressure to get tough with Moscow

GlobalPost senior correspondent and EU-watcher Paul Ames filed this report from Lisbon, Portugal:

With the mounting evidence that Russian-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine were responsible for downing MH17, pressure is growing in Europe to take a tougher line with Moscow.

"If there is evidence linking Russia to this, that should inspire the Europeans to do much more," said former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton told PBS that “much more” should include tougher sanctions, cutting imports of gas from Russia, and increased support to the Ukrainian authorities, including supplying and training the Ukrainian military.

Europe, Clinton added, should "put Putin on notice that he has gone too far."

Former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind told the BBC there is "a very powerful argument for very wide-ranging economic and financial sanctions."
However, many governments for the moment are taking a cautious line, pending the result of investigations into who brought down the plane.

"Regarding sanctions, I'd like to point out that the events with the plane, as far as I remember, were not even 24 hours ago and at the moment we need to sort out an independent investigation," German Chancellor Angela Merkel a news conference in Berlin. "It's perhaps premature to draw conclusions before we have access to the remains of the plane."

EU diplomats and legal experts are already working on an extended list of individuals, organizations and companies that will face European sanctions following a decision by Merkel and other leaders at a summit on Wednesday to widen measures against Moscow.

They are due to publish the list by the end of this month.

Countries that have long pushed for stronger action over the crisis in Ukraine have been the most vocal in their response to the apparent missile strike on the airliner.
Lithuania called the attack a "brutal act of terror" and said the EU needed to take more measures to end the Ukraine crisis. Latvia said Russia bore "full responsibility" for providing rebels with missiles.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted that "those responsible, directly and indirectly, for the shooting down of MH17 must be identified, apprehended and brought to justice." His Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski said that should include "perpetrators and those who enabled them.

The fact that most of the victims were Dutch may increase the chance that Europe gets tough. Until now, the Netherlands, which has close business ties to Russia, has been one of the EU nations most reluctant to crank up action over Ukraine.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 12:08 PM ET

At least one American killed in crash

President Obama identified the American aboard MH17 as Quinn Lucas Johnson.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 12:04 PM ET

Obama calls for immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, international investigation of crash

"It is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine," the US president said during live remarks on Friday. However, "Russia has refused to take the concrete steps" necessary to deescalate the violence, Obama said.

"Russia, the separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting."

The president said that the US is confident the missile that struck MH17 was fired from separatist territory, but said it is too early to declare who may have launched a strike on the plane.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 11:24 AM ET

Obama due to speak on the situation in Ukraine

Expect this live video to begin around 11:30 EST:

UPDATE: 7/18/14 11:20 AM ET

Investigators are onsite

30 investigators with the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have arrived to the crash site in Ukraine, the BBC reports. Meanwhile, the Malaysia Special Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team, known as Smart, is on its way to Kyiv. Smart will assist with search and recovery as part of their investigation into what happened in eastern Ukraine.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 10:48 AM ET

Live video: UN Security Council meets

Officials at the UN are discussing Ukraine this morning, specifically the MH17 crash. It's the 19th time the council has met to discuss the conflict there, the Australian representative just pointed out.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 10:44 AM ET

Were there Americans onboard?

BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray, citing Obama administration emails, says there weren't — at least, no passengers on the plane were US passport-holders:

None of the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over eastern Ukraine used a U.S. passport to check in, according to internal Obama administration emails about the incident.

The emails contradict widely-circulated rumors that that there were 23 Americans on the flight.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 8:30 AM ET

Ukraine's emergency services find two black boxes at crash site, Interfax reports

Reuters — Ukraine's emergency services have found two black boxes at the crash site of a Malaysian airliner, Interfax-Ukraine quoted an adviser to the governor of eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region as saying.

"Two black boxes were found by our emergency services. I have no information on where these boxes are at the moment," Kostyantyn Batovsky reportedly said.

A spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry in Kyiv declined to comment on the report.

UPDATE: 7/18/14 8:15 AM ET

Rescuers recover 181 bodies

Reuters — Rescuers have recovered as many as 181 bodies so far at the site of the Malaysian airliner crash in eastern Ukraine, an official at Kyiv's Foreign Ministry told a briefing on Friday.

Andriy Sibiga said the bodies would probably be transported to the nearby Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which is under the control of the central government.

Separatists have agreed to provide assistance to those investigating the crash of the plane and will ensure safe access for international experts visiting the site, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said.


Malaysia Airlines is holding a news briefing at Schipol airport in the Netherlands. Watch live:

UPDATE: 7/17/14 9:14 PM ET

Malaysia Airlines flight attendant who lost husband on MH370: 'I think I will hang my uniform very soon'

GlobalPost senior correspondent Patrick Winn sends this report from Bangkok:

Relatives of the vanished MH370 crew are logging on to Twitter to publicly mourn Malaysia Airline’s latest tragedy — a mysterious missile strike on a flight over Ukraine.

Among the grieving: Intan Maizura Othaman, a Malaysia Airlines flight attendant. Othaman’s tale is particularly heartbreaking. Her husband, also a flight attendant, was aboard MH370 when it disappeared in March. She delivered their baby boy, Muhammed, without him.

Hours after the MH17 disaster on Thursday, she considered ending her career.

Othaman also suggested she knew crew members aboard MH17.

The daughter of MH370’s chief steward also took to Twitter to post that she’s “out of words” following the MH17 disaster. The young woman, Maira Elizabeth Nari, had previously posted heartbreaking tweets urging her father’s homecoming after MH370 vanished.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 9:00 PM ET

Number onboard revised to 298

Officials confirmed late Thursday that 298 people were onboard Flight MH17. Malaysia Airlines had announced earlier in the day that 295 — 280 passengers and 15 crew — were on the plane. That number didn't include three infants.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 8:30 PM ET

Apparent attack on MH17 could finally bankrupt Malaysia Airlines

GlobalPost senior correspondent Patrick Winn sends this report from Bangkok:

Even before Flight MH370 vanished mysteriously in March, Malaysia Airlines was teetering toward bankruptcy. Now that a second flight was blown out of the sky over Ukraine, the airline may finally face financial collapse.

Malaysia Airlines is largely owned by the state. It’s lost money three years straight and has a reputation for bloated contracts and mismanagement. It’s a fairly high-end airline — passengers love it — but it’s also hemorrhaging cash. Losing another Boeing 777 worth nearly $300 million could be the final straw.

This is how an op-ed in a regional newspaper, Singapore’s Straits Times, chalked up Malaysia Airlines’ bevy of problems:

“Overstaffing, ridiculous union demands and outlandishly skewed procurement contracts are the financial equivalent of having to fight with one hand tied behind one's back.”

The author urged the airline to go ahead and file for bankruptcy. And that was written in February, months before the airline lost two jets, hundreds of passengers and many experienced crew members in a bizarre run of bad luck.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 8:17 PM ET

Grim precedent: 4 commercial flights that were shot down

Almost as soon as the news broke on Thursday that a Malaysian airliner crashed in eastern Ukraine, speculation began swirling that the ill-fated jet had been shot down amid the fighting taking place between pro-Moscow separatists and the Ukrainian military near the Russian border.

If the reports are true, this isn’t the first time an airliner has crashed near a war zone. A handful of passenger jets have met a similar fate, even in Ukraine. Read about them here.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 7:42 PM ET

Who was onboard?

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was carrying 295 people — 280 passengers and 15 crew — from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All are presumed dead.

Vice President of Malaysia Airlines Europe Huib Gorter told a televised press conference that the 15 crew members were all Malaysian nationals. Gorter also confirmed 154 Dutch passengers; 27 Australian; 23 Malaysian; 11 Indonesian; six British, and four German, as well as four passengers from Belgium, three from the Philippines, and one from Canada.

The remaining passengers' nationalities have yet to be confirmed.

Families and loved ones seeking information are encouraged to call a free helpline in Amsterdam at + 31 70 348 7770 or in Malaysia by dialing +603 7884 1234.

 

People lit candles and laid flowers in front of the Dutch Embassy in Kyiv on Thursday.

 

Vice President of Malaysia Airlines Europe Huib Gorter speaks at a press conference on Thursday.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 6:18 PM ET

Malaysia's prime minister: 'The Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down'

In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities in his country have not yet determined the cause of the MH17 crash. Here's the short version of what Razak had to say:

- The plane had been traveling in unrestricted airspace. Malaysia Airlines confirmed there was no distress call placed before the crash.

- Malaysia Airlines is in the process of notifying the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew.

- Malaysia is sending special emergency medical and disaster response teams to Ukraine.

- Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down. Malaysia is unable to verify that.

- Ukraine has promised to secure a "humanitarian corridor" for international investigators to access the crash site safely.

Read the full statement here.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 6:04 PM ET

Putin blames Ukraine for crash

The Wall Street Journal's Paul Sonne reports:

After observing a moment of silence for the victims, Mr. Putin told gathered Russian officials at his residence outside Moscow that the tragedy would have been avoided had Ukraine not renewed military action in early July against pro-Russia separatists after a brief ceasefire.

“I want to note that this tragedy wouldn’t have occurred if there had been peace on this land and hostilities hadn’t been renewed in Ukraine’s southeast,” Mr. Putin said. “And of course the government on whose territory this occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy.”

UPDATE: 7/17/14 5:46 PM ET

Leaked video supports allegations that Russian-backed militants fired at plane

Ukraine's security agency, the SBU, has released what they say are transcripts of intercepted calls between pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and Russian intelligence officers, the Kyiv Post reports.

According to the newspaper's translation of the transcript, the calls indicate separatists examined the wreckage of the passenger plane shortly after the crash and blamed Russian-backed Cossack militants for the strike.

GlobalPost has not verified the report. Here's the Kyiv Post's full take.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 4:55 PM ET

US concludes surface-to-air missiles took down plane

US officials have determined that ground-fired missiles are to blame for crash of MH17 in Ukraine today, multiple outlets are reporting.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 4:35 PM ET

The blame game begins

The head of the separatist self-described Donetsk Republic Alexander Borodai blamed the incident on the Ukrainian military.

"We confirm the downing of a passenger plane near Donetsk," he told the Interfax news agency.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 4:15 PM ET

Live video of Malaysian PM's statement

Watch Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement about the crash, via our news partner NBC News:

UPDATE: 7/17/14 3:48 PM ET

Ukraine rebels could agree to a brief truce, according to RIA

Reuters — A pro-Russian separatists could agree to a two- to three-day truce in eastern Ukraine to allow recovery work at the site of a downed Malaysian airliner, Russia's RIA news agency quoted a rebel leader as saying on Thursday.

The rebels, who have risen up against central rule, were holding talks with representatives of the national authorities on allowing access to the site for international organizations, Alexander Boraday, the self-styled prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, was quoted as saying.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 3:20 PM ET

Malaysia Airlines plane was in unrestricted airspace, IATA says

Reuters — A global airline industry group said on Thursday that a Malaysian airliner downed over Ukraine appeared to have been flying through ordinary and open airspace when it crashed.

"Based on the information currently available, it is believed that the airspace that the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions," the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association said in a statement.

 

 

Akmar Binti Mohd Noor, 67, whose sister was onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam cries outside the family holding area at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on July 18, 2014.

Relatives of passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam wait for information outside the family holding area at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on July 18, 2014.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 2:49 PM ET

Separatists claim to have found the plane's black box

Reuters — Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they have found the "black box" flight recorder of the Malaysian airliner that crashed, killing 295 people, the Interfax news agency reported.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 2:32 PM ET

Obama calls crash a 'terrible tragedy'

Reuters — President Barack Obama said on Thursday the crash of a Malaysian jetliner on the border of Ukraine was a "terrible tragedy" and the United States would offer any assistance necessary to help determine what happened and why.

Obama said officials were looking into whether US citizens were on board the plane.

Obama made the comments at the beginning of remarks about infrastructure in Delaware.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 2:19 PM ET

The scene of the crash

Noah Sneider, a reporter who was at the crash site, describes the horrific scene:

UPDATE: 7/17/14 2:10 PM ET

Photos of the crash site emerge on social media

UPDATE: 7/17/14 2:05 PM ET

Airlines are avoiding the conflict area

The Washington Post is reporting that several airlines, including Turkish Airlines, Aeroflot, British Airways and Lufthansa, are avoiding Ukrainian airspace. More here.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 2:00 PM ET

MH17's flight path

UPDATE: 7/17/14 1:42 PM ET

Malaysian PM says he is launching an investigation

Reuters — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Friday he was shocked by reports a Malaysia Airlines plane had gone down over Ukraine and he was launching an investigation.

"I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation," Najib said on his Twitter feed. MH is the code for Malaysia Airlines.

UPDATE: 7/17/14 1:40 PM ET

Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in Ukraine near Russian border: Ifax

Reuters — A Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine by militants on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard, a Ukrainian interior ministry official was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

The aircraft, which other sources said was a Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came down near the city of Donetsk, stronghold of pro-Russian rebels, Anton Gerashchenko said, adding that it was hit by a ground-to-air missile.

There was no further confirmation of the report, although Ukrainian officials said local residents had found wreckage. Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed it had lost contact with its flight MH-17 from Amsterdam.

"The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace," it said. Gerashchenko was quoted as saying: "A civilian airliner travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has just been shot down by a Buk anti-aircraft system ... 280 passengers and 15 crew have been killed."

Interfax-Ukraine quoted another Ukrainian official as saying the plane disappeared from radar when it was flying at 33,000 feet, a typical cruising altitude for airliners.

It came down at Torez, near Shakhtersk, some 25 miles from the Russia border. The area has been the scene of fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels.

Ukraine has accused Russia of taking an active role in the four-month-old conflict in recent days and accused it earlier on Thursday of shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet — an accusation that Moscow denied.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140717/malaysian-passenger-plane-crashes-ukraine-near-russian-border-if