What has and has not been confirmed about Flight 17
A day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, more information has emerged about the flight, how it was shot down and who was on board. But while several details came to light on Friday, there are still key things not known.
Here is what we know and what we don’t know yet.
What we know:
- The flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, a Boeing 777, was shot down using a surface-to-air missile. There were 298 people on the plane, nearly two-thirds of them Dutch citizens.
- President Obama said the rocket appeared to be fired from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists. He stopped short of directly blaming Russia or saying who fired the missile, but he did say that these separatists had received heavy weaponry and arms from Russia.
- A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment suggested that pro-Russian separatists shot down the plane with an SA-11 missile. Administration officials did not specifically identify the perpetrators, but they made it clear that the rebels are the likeliest suspects.
- The U.S. has gathered significant evidence showing that Ukrainian separatists had trained on Russian territory recently to fire anti-aircraft missiles. (For what it’s worth, the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels continued to blame each other for shooting down the plane.)
- At least one U.S. citizen was on the flight: Quinn Lucas Schansman, 19, who had dual citizenship with the Netherlands. Another Dutch victim, Karlijn Keijzner, had been a rower for Indiana University and was a doctoral student in the school’s chemistry department.
- At least seven people on the plane were heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia.
- Obama called for a “credible” international investigation, echoing calls from other world leaders asking for an international effort. The FBI is sending personnel (including an explosives expert), while the National Transportation Safety Board is sending at least one investigator.
- Ukrainian authorities were in possession of one of the “black box” data recorders, a Ukrainian official said. Pro-Russian rebels said they have block boxes as well, but the Russian foreign minister said Friday that the Russian government would not be taking the boxes in a violation of international rules.
What we don’t know yet:
- If pro-Ukrainian separatists did, in fact, shoot down the jet, the question becomes: Why? They had previously been targeting military aircraft, so shooting down a civilian plane is a big change. (Were they actually trying to shoot down the airliner? Did they know it was actually an airliner? Here’s more on this at the Switch.)
- Details about the people on the plane. Malasyia Air has not released a full passenger manifest, so the names of many of the victims remain unknown, which mean we are only starting to learn about the nearly 300 lives that were cut short in the skies over Ukraine.
- How many people on the plane were heading to the AIDS conference in Australia? Some media reports estimated that more than 100 passengers, or nearly a third of the people on the plane, were heading to the conference. This number drew quite a bit of attention and was repeated by Obama during his remarks Friday. But the figure has not been verified. Organizers confirmed that at least seven people on the flight were heading to the conference, but they said the actual number of delegates and attendees on the plane will likely be much lower than the “more than 100″ figure.
- How will the investigation unfold? Access to the site where the plane’s debris is scattered has been tricky, because the plane was shot down in a part of eastern Ukraine that is being fought over by the Ukrainian government and the separatist forces. The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent 30 observers to the crash scene, and they had to negotiate access to get to the heavily-guarded site. The international team of investigators is expected late Friday or on Saturday morning, and it’s unclear how the separatists and Ukrainian government will handle allowing experts access to the crash site (to say nothing of what the investigation’s findings will do to the overall fighting in the region).