(USA TODAY) -- Officials from several countries vow to quickly determine who's behind Thursday's downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and the deaths of all 295 aboard.
U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that the crash was caused by a surface-to-air missile near Ukraine's border with Russia, but have yet to determine where it originated. The incident already is inflaming tensions between the two countries and escalating political rhetoric elsewhere.
It was "not an accident, it was blown out of the sky,'' said Vice President Joe Biden.
Malaysia Airlines said Ukrainian air traffic control lost contact with Flight MH17 about 30 miles from Russia. The plane carried 280 passengers and 15 crew. There were no distress calls as it began breaking up as it fell from the sky in the world's deadliest aviation incident since 9/11.
Officials are investigating the fatal crash of a Malaysian airplane in eastern Ukraine. Nathan Frandino reports.
Crash victims and body parts were strewn among burning debris up to 10 miles away. Among the dead: 154 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 11 Indonesians, six Brits, four Germans, four Belgians, four French, three Filipinos and a Canadian.
The crash site is in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, where political unrest and and scattered fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian militants has festered for months. After the downing of several Ukraine aircraft in recent days, accusations, blame and finger-pointing over Thursday's crash was fevered.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the incident a terrorist act. Russian and pro-Russian separatists denied responsibility. But Ukrainian officials said they had intercepted telephone calls in which a separatist leader talked about crash with Russian military intelligence officers. Separatists initially believed they had downed a military cargo plane, according to the SBU, Ukraine's main security agency.
But Russian President Putin blamed the incident on the Ukraine government, which "carries responsibility for this horrible tragedy."
"We will do everything – everything that depends on us, in any case – to ensure that an objective picture of the events becomes accessible for our public and for the Ukrainian public and the entire world," Putin said.
In brief remarks at an appearance in Wilmington, Del., President Obama called the incident a "terrible tragedy" and said the U.S. will offer "any services it can" to determine what happened.
See Also: Another tragedy for Malaysia Airlines
The crash occurred at about 12:15 local time, two hours after the flight departed Amsterdam. It's the second disaster involving a Malaysia Air Boeing 777 this year. On March 8, Flight 370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew aboard on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bejiing. Despite one of the most extensive searches in flight history, Flight 370 has yet to be found.
Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Ministry, said on Facebook that Flight MH17 was hit by a BUK anti-aircraft missile. U sually vehicle-mounted, the BUK can simultaneously track and strike multiple targets at different directions and altitudes, according to military think tank Globalsecurity.org.
President Obama extended condolences to those who lost loved ones in Thursday's Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine, near the Russian border.
A separatist leader in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, denied that rebel forces had the capability to bring down a high-altitude aircraft. Alexander Boroday, chairman of the Council of Ministers of the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk, called the incident a provocation by the Ukrainian military, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
"Self-defense forces have no air-defense, which could target transport aircraft at that height," he told Interfax.
On Wednesday, a Russian military plane allegedly shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 jet fighter over Ukrainian territory, forcing the pilot to eject. Pro-Russian rebels claimed responsibility for hitting a second Su-25 with a portable surface-to-air missile. The pilot managed to land the plane safely.
Amateur video shows smoke from a Malaysian passenger plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing more than 300 people onboard including 23 U.S. citizens. Deborah Gembara reports.
"There have been Ukrainian helicopters and aircraft operating under the assumption of limited separatist capabilities,'' said Damon Wilson, a Russia and Ukraine expert in the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. "They've learned quite rudely that the separatists have more advanced weapons."
Separatists have used a version of Russia's Grad rocket that Russian military only began using in January, Wilson said, citing sources in "U.S. government circles."
"This is not older, former equipment but among the most recent Russian equipment used in the Russian military," said Wilson, now deputy executive vice president at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
German, British and French airlines say they are keeping flights from crossing the region.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 295 people aboard crashed Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border after reportedly being hit by a missile, according to an adviser to Ukraine's interior ministry.
Contributing: Oren Dorell in McLean, Va.; Associated Press
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