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Missile attack takes down Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine

(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

There were 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 when it was shot down Thursday. A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment indicated that the plane was taken down by an antiaircraft missile fired by pro-Russian separatists. The Ukrainian government and rebels blamed each other for the disaster. Read our previous updates from Thursday.

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VIDEO: Smoke rises over plane crash site

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An adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister said that an anti-aircraft missile downed the Boeing 777, which was carrying 295 people, over the village of Torez, about 25 miles east of the city of Donetsk and within territory held by pro-Russian separatist rebels. This video shows black smoke rising and debris falling from the sky at the crash site.

Abby Phillip
July 17, 1:53 pm
  • Abby Phillip July 17, 1:53 pm

Family falls victim to MH17 and 370

From the Associated Press: In an almost incomprehensible twist of fate, an Australian woman who lost her brother in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 learned Friday that her stepdaughter was on the plane shot down over Ukraine.

Kaylene Mann’s brother Rod Burrows and sister-in-law Mary Burrows were on board Flight 370 when it vanished in March. That flight is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean.

On Friday, Mann found out that her stepdaughter, Maree Rizk, was killed along with 297 others on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which U.S. intelligence authorities believe was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

“It’s just brought everyone, everything back,” said Greg Burrows, Mann’s brother. “It’s just … ripped our guts again.”

Read full story

Fred Barbash
July 18, 8:47 am
  • Fred Barbash July 18, 8:47 am

77-year-old nun among victims

A 77-year-old nun was among the victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight, an Australian school confirmed in a news release Friday.

Sister Philomene Tiernan worked at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart in Sydney, which said she was one of more than 20 Australians aboard the plane.

“We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise and compassionate woman, who was greatly loved by us all,” the school’s principal, Hilary Johnston-Croke said in a statement. “Phil contributed greatly to our community and she touched the lives of all of us in a very positive and meaningful way.”

Australian politician Malcolm Turnbull on Friday tweeted about Tiernan, who had been associated with the school for more than 30 years.

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 8:49 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 8:49 am

What we know and what we don't know about Flight MH17

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are offering a truce to allow authorities to investigate the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet, which U.S. officials said was taken down in a surface-to-air missile attack Thursday. Nearly 300 people aboard the Boeing 777 were killed, the airline said. Here’s what we know so far, and what we’re looking at as the day develops.

What we know so far: 

• Flight 17 was carrying 298 passengers, a total that included three infants, Malaysia Airlines said Thursday.

passengers graphic

• Among the victims was a 77-year-old nun from Australia.

• The Associated Press reported that an Australian woman whose stepdaughter was aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 also lost a brother in Flight 370, which disappeared in March.

• Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downed plane an “act of terrorism.” “War has gone beyond the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said Friday. “Consequences of this war have already reached the whole world.”

• The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Friday.

• Ukraine’s Security Service on Thursday released a recording of what it said were intercepted phone calls between separatists and Russian military intelligence officer. The recording, which is posted below, contained discussions about shooting down a plane. The Washington Post couldn’t independently verify the recording or any of the people heard speaking on it, but three Russian language speakers working for The Post verified the translation that we’ve reported.

What we don’t know so far:

• Many of the passengers were traveling to the AIDS conference in Australia, it is still unknown how many were on flight MH17.

• Were any U.S. citizens on the plane? That is unclear right now. Malaysia airlines updated their list of nationalities on board, but four victims remain unverified. Obama said the United States is working to see if any of citizens were on the plane.

• What will this mean for the conflict in the region? Ukraine insists that there was Russian involvement in shooting down the plane, if in fact this is true, it may only further inflame the fighting in the tense region.

• Flight crash investigations are painstaking and technical affairs. But evidence at the MH17 crash site may have been compromised from the very beginning. Will investigators be able to recover crucial data from the plane’s black boxes? And what information has already been lost?

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 8:56 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 8:56 am

Relatives of Flight 370 passengers offer advice to Flight 17 families

Relatives of Flight 370 passengers — still recovering from the frustration and chaos of the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared four months ago — are offering advice for the newly grieving relatives of passengers aboard Flight 17.

Never stop demanding answers even when authorities dodge questions, they say. Work together when dealing with the government, the media and lawyers. And most of all, according to some, don’t expect answers from Malaysia Airlines anytime soon.

“Don’t count on Malaysia airlines for any first-hand information,” read one relative’s post on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Writing under the online handle Chubeichu2, the relative said: “Your main sources should be the internet and the media … official information will always be the last one to come.”

More than 153 of the 239 people aboard March’s missing flight were Chinese. Since MH370 disappeared from radar on March 8, passengers’ family members have gone through cycles of despair, anger and hope — only to had those hopes dashed. Search efforts have continued, but have yielded little to explain what happened and where the plane ended up.

For some, Thursday’s news was yet another flash of hope. Many saw the name “Malaysia Airlines” on the news, and thought Flight 370 may have finally been found.

“In the past few months, I thought we had already got back to a normal life. Not as normal as before, but at least my aunt didn’t cry anymore,” said one man in Beijing, whose cousin was Flight 370.

The man asked to be identified only by his surname, Chi, saying he was tired of calls from reporters and lawyers, and that he feared it could affect his family’s dealings with authorities.

Chi said his aunt, like many family members, continues to make regular trips to the Malaysia Airlines’ office in Beijing for updates. She has refused the $50,000 compensation offered by Malaysia Airlines because she didn’t want to sign the agreement officially declaring her son dead.

Chi and others in his family have been approached by the Chinese authorities offering free legal assistance and trying to persuade them to take the money. Several American lawyers have called as well. “We don’t trust any of them,” Chi said.

Other relatives, under a collective Weibo account formed by Chinese families of MH370 passengers, urged families of the newly downed Flight 17 to stay strong amid the international wrangling that is expected in the coming days.

Noting the confusing and uncoordinated search between authorities when Flight 370 disappeared four months ago, the families wrote in their post: “There is a lot of different and confusing information about MH17; it’s as if the tragedy of MH370 is happening all over again. We hope relevant countries could work together instead of undermining each other; we hope there would be consistent instead of contradicting information.”

“One accident after another. we have to ask, where is the flight safety? Will every plane ride become scary like a roller-coaster?” read the online post.

“What’s wrong with you Malaysia. We are hoping this is not true. We don’t want anyone to suffer like us,” wrote the families, in another post.

Many relatives — who worry attention and pressure to find Flight 370 have flagged — also expressed hope that Thursday’s tragedy might bring fresh attention to their still-missing relatives.

“No matter if others care or not, we won’t give it up. They are my relatives,” Chi said.

— William Wan

Xu Yangjingjing and Xu Jing in Beijing contributed to this report.

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 8:56 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 8:56 am

Pakistan Airways decided flying over Ukraine was too dangerous

Pakistan International Airlines is used to flying over conflict zones.

Last month, a dozen heavily-armed Taliban militants stormed airport grounds in Karachi, killing more than two dozen people, damaging several planes and setting a huge fire that burned for hours.

Two weeks later, on June 24, militants also fired a volley of high-caliber bullets at a Pakistan International Airlines plane as it was landing in Peshawar Pakistan.

Several bullets penetrated the fuselage, killing a passenger and wounding two flight attendants. The plane would have likely crashed and killed all 198 people on board had one of the bullets struck the pilot or the fuel tank, officials said.

Yet despite those threats, PIA continues to fly 30 flights a day over Pakistani airspace. It also has several flights each week to Kabul, traversing over areas effectively controlled by the Afghan Taliban. But there is one country that PIA stopped flying over two months ago due to danger: Ukraine.

“We were proceeding as if there could be some problem, so we started finding safer routes,” said Mashhood Tajwar, a PIA spokesman. “Issues were bubbling up, and we had some alternatives available, so we thought it would be better to keep our system free of any trouble in the future.”

The fact that an airline that operates in such a violence-prone environments as PIA decided to avoid Ukrainian airspace could raise questions about why Malaysian Airways officials did not reach a similar conclusion.

Tajwar said the decision to avoid Ukrainian was made due to the “dispute over airspace” in Crimea between Russia and Ukraine.

Instead of taking a chance of getting caught up in the conflict, Tajwar said PIA began taking a northern route toward Moscow or a southern route over Turkey for flights bound for Europe or New York. PIA has about 30 flights each week to the United Kingdom, eight to other European cities and two to New York.

“We made the decision even though it costs us more money and it adds 10 to 15 minutes to the flight,” said Tajwar, adding the airline has been scrutinizing flight paths since Malaysian Airways Flight 370 went missing in March. “There was no specific threat, but our flight operations center was continually monitoring the situation and devised a new flight path.”

As to how PIA came to view a flight path over Ukraine as more dangerous than flights over Pakistan or Afghanistan, Tajwar said the calculation was simple.

In Pakistan, he said, the airline is continually doing “risk assessments” and is confident that Pakistan’s military can keep its airspace free of danger. In Afghanistan, Tajwar noted that the U.S. military continues to play a leading role in air traffic control and threat mitigation.

“The Kabul flight route is actually quit safe,” Tajwar said.

— Tim Craig

Related: Planes are now avoiding Ukrainian airspace

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 8:56 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 8:56 am

Ukrainian authorities recover a black box

Ukrainian authorities were in possession of one “black box” data recorder from the downed plane on Friday, said Konstantin Batozsky, an adviser to the Donetsk regional governor, Serhiy Taruta. Batozsky said he didn’t have exact information about where the recorder had been recovered.

Rebels had told Ukrainian authorities that they had at least one other data recorder, Batozsky said, but government officials had not actually seen the second recorder.

Passenger planes normally carry two recorders: One records the data from instruments; the other is the cockpit voice recorder.

In an interview with Russia 24 television Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would not be taking the black boxes pro-Russian rebels said they had recovered from the plane, despite the separatists’ offer to hand them over.

“We are not going to take away these boxes, we are not going to violate the rules existing with regard to this sort of cases within the international community,” he said.

Lavrov also said that the international community could not expect Russia to get the rebels in eastern Ukraine to lay down their arms.

“It’s impossible to demand only of use to make the militiamen essentially accept the fact that they will either finish it off, or surrender at the mercy of the victor,” Lavrov said, according to Interfax.

Lavrov criticized Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for potentially poisoning the investigation of the plane crash, Lavrov charged, by calling for a commission to look into the incident while also declaring that the crash was an act of terrorism.

“Of course, attempts to claim that this was a terrorist act, so the Ukrainian researchers will be guided by this in their work – this is unacceptable, this pressure on the acts of the this commission,” Lavrov said.

— Michael Birnbaum and Karoun Demirjian

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 9:33 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 9:33 am

President Obama will address Ukraine at 11:30 a.m.

The White House announced that President Obama will address the situation in Ukraine at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, from the White House press briefing room.

We will live stream his remarks here.

Abby Phillip
July 18, 9:56 am
  • Abby Phillip July 18, 9:56 am

AIDS researchers, activists among dead

Reports that perhaps as many as 100 HIV researchers were on board the downed flight heading to a conference in Australia have shaken the entire profession. Among them was one of the most renowned, Joep Lange.

See full stories here and here.

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 9:57 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 9:57 am

Video: AIDS researchers were on downed plane

Some of the victims from Thursday’s crash reportedly included passengers on their way to an AIDS conference, including researcher Joep Lange. Joel Achenbach and Ariana Cha report:

Lange, a Dutch citizen, had been a pioneer in the field since the early days of the AIDS epidemic and had worked tirelessly, his friends and colleagues said, to improve access to life-saving drugs in impoverished corners of the globe.

“His loss casts a pall over the International AIDS Conference just getting underway in Melbourne,” wrote Daniel R. Kuritzkes, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He called Lange “an extraordinary leader, scientist and humanitarian” who, as a past president of the International AIDS Society and as a leading Dutch academic researcher, “fought ceaselessly for the dignity of all HIV-infected persons throughout the world.”

Read more here.

Sarah Larimer
July 18, 10:03 am
  • Sarah Larimer July 18, 10:03 am
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