UK & World News

  • 17 July 2014, 21:45

Malaysia Air Crash 'Leaves 23 Americans Dead'

President Barack Obama has said the nation's prayers are with victims of the Malaysia plane crash in eastern Ukraine, amid unconfirmed reports that 23 Americans died.

The passenger aircraft, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur,was shot down, American intelligence officials told US media.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry aide Zoryan Shkyryak was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying: "More than 300 innocent people have been killed ... it is known that 23 US citizens were killed."

Malaysia Airlines said there were 280 passengers and 15 crew members on flight MH17, which crashed in a region where Ukrainian forces have been battling Russian-backed separatists.

An American freelance journalist at the scene, Noah Sneider, tweeted: "I've never seen anything like it," one local rebel fighter tells me. "You look down and see ears, fingers, bones."

Mr Obama commented briefly on the Boeing 777 crash at the beginning of an event in Wilmington,Delaware.

"It looks like it may be a terrible tragedy," he said. "Right now we are working to determine whether there were American citizens on board - that is our first priority.

"And I've directed my national securityteam to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government."

He added: "As a country, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and passengers, wherever they call home."

Mr Obama, who earlier ate a cheeseburger with a supporter, pressed ahead with his planned remarks on infrastructure.

As Kiev and Moscow pointed the finger at one another, Mr Obama discussed the incident before he left the White House on Thursday in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US president also called Ukrainian President PetroPoroshenkoand Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

US Vice-President Joe Bidenmeanwhile said the crash was "not an accident", adding that the plane had been "blown out of the sky."

The plane was travelling at an altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 metres) when it was brought down by a Buk ground-to-air missile, the Ukrainian interior ministry told Interfax.

A senior US official told Fox News: "If this was done by the separatists it was done with Russian assistance, whether direct or indirect.

"Whether they just gave them the weapons or trained them how to use them."

But he also said the possibility that it was simply a tragic accident could not be ruled out.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned US pilots in April not to fly over parts of Ukraine because of the ongoing conflict there.

All US carriers and most European airlines have been avoiding that airspace, says Sky's Mark White.