LONDON, UK — 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.
Yet they stopped short of openly blaming the disaster on Russia, which denies funding the separatist, pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine whose missiles may have shot down the plane.
Rebels say Ukrainian forces were responsible for the crash. Ukraine points the finger back at the separatist fighters, the leader of whom announced on social media just before the MH17 news broke that his forces “just downed a plane, an AN-26 ... We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace.”
Ukraine’s security forces released an audio transcript of telephone conversations alleged to have taken place between rebels and a Russian intelligence officer after the plane was shot down.
In the tape — which has not been verified — a reported separatist curses upon realizing that the plane was a civilian aircraft and not a military one.
The UN Security Council emerged from an emergency meeting Friday afternoon with a call for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of MH17 Thursday en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
“If, as seems possible, the plane was brought down then those responsible must be held to account and we must lose no time in doing that,” Prime Minister David Cameron said, calling the crash of the passenger plane with 298 people aboard an “absolutely shocking incident.”
The UK sent police and air accident experts to eastern Ukraine to repatriate victims and assist with the investigation. On Thursday night, pro-Ukrainian pressure group London Euromaidan laid flowers at the Dutch and Malaysian embassies before marching to Russia’s embassy in Notting Hill for a protest.
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.