Investigation to begin on downed Malaysian Airlines Plane

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By Crysty Vaughan
By ABC Columbia Newsroom

(ABC NEWS) -- A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane went down Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border with all 295 people on board believed to be dead, according to Ukrainian authorities.

The Boeing 777 plane -- Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur with 280 passengers and 15 crew members on board -- had its "last known position was over Ukraine airspace," the airline said.

Ukrainian officials told U.S. Embassy officials that everyone was "believed dead" and that debris was spread out over a 10-mile path near town of Shakhtars’k. It is not known if any Americans were on board at the time.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Kiev said the plane had been "shot down" over Ukraine airspace by a surface-to-air missile.

"According to the General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces, the airplane was shot down by the Russian Buk missile system as the liner was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters [33,000 feet]," the statement added. "Ukraine has no long-range air defense missile systems in this area. The plane was shot down, because the Russian air defense systems was affording protection to Russian mercenaries and terrorists in this area. Ukraine will present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash."

In a tweet, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "Condolences to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in connection with the crash of a passenger aircraft in Ukraine."

President Obama, at an event in Delaware this afternoon, said, "Obviously, the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border. And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy. Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority, and I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government."

The pro-Russian separatists who control the area where a Malaysia Airlines flight was brought down agreed to allow investigators safe access to the site to recover bodies and gather evidence, according to a statement from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

It was unclear how soon investigators would begin sifting through the charred wreckage of the airliner, which was carrying 298 people when it went down Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border. The plane had left Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. (local time) and was estimated to arrive in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Friday at 6:10 a.m. (local time), according to Malaysia Airlines.

FBI and NTSB officials will head to Ukraine in an "advisory role" in the investigation, a senior administration official told ABC News.

John Wendle, a freelance reporter for ABC News, described seeing "bodies scattered everywhere" at the crash site.

"There's blood splattered everywhere, and pieces of remains," Wendle said. "It's a pretty grim sight...This is terrible."

A U.S. official told ABC News intelligence and analysis of the situation determined that it was a single surface-to-air missile that struck the Boeing 777-200 aircraft while at cruising altitude. It is unclear whether the missile was fired from inside Ukrainian or Russian territory and who fired it, the official added.

It remains unclear if Americans were on board the flight. Malaysia Airlines officials said that 154 passengers were Dutch. In addition, according to the latest numbers released by the airline, 43 were Malaysian, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 9 British, 4 Belgians, 4 Germans, 3 Filipinos and 1 Canadian. Nationalities of 41 other passengers remain unknown at this time.

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