Malaysia Airlines Plane Brought Down by Missile in Ukraine: US Official

PHOTO: People walk amongst the debris at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Ukraine said a passenger plane was shot down Thursday as it flew over the country.
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A surface-to-air missile struck a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people that went down Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The official said U.S. intelligence and analysis of the situation determined that it was a single 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.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers and 15 crew members. The airline had earlier said there were 280 passengers.

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

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Speaking in Detroit, Vice President Joe Biden said the plane had "been shot down, not an accident. Blown out of the sky."

"We see reports that there may have been American citizens on board," he added. "Obviously, that’s our first concern. We’re working every minute to try to confirm those reports as I speak."

PHOTO: Men explore the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that crashed in east Ukraine while traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.
Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: Men explore the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that crashed in east Ukraine while traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.

It remains unclear if Americans were on board the flight. 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.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said the plane did not make any distress call. He said the route had been deemed safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization despite the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.

"If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice," he added.

PHOTO: A man works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters
PHOTO: A man works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.

Earlier today, Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile shot down the passenger jet. Ukrainian authorities told U.S. Embassy officials that everyone was "believed dead" and that debris was spread out over a 10-mile path near the town of Hrabove in the district of Shakhtars'k.

PHOTO: A general view shows the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters
PHOTO: A general view shows the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Kiev claimed the plane had been "shot down."

"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."

PHOTO: Men stand next to the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that crashed near the town of Shaktarsk in rebel-held east Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: Men stand next to the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that crashed near the town of Shaktarsk in rebel-held east Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later added, "We are not calling it an accident, or a disaster, but an act of terrorism."

The plane had left Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. (local time) and was estimated to arrive in Kuala Lampur International Airport on Friday at 6:10 a.m. (local time), according to Malaysia Airlines.

PHOTO: An Emergencies Ministry member works at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters
PHOTO: An Emergencies Ministry member works at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.

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

A Kremlin statement said Putin opened a meeting with his economic advisers by calling for a moment of silence over the crash.

"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine," he said. "And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."

PHOTO: Malaysia Airlines says it has lost contact with an airliner over Ukrainian airspace.
EMPR
PHOTO: Malaysia Airlines says it has lost contact with an airliner over Ukrainian airspace.

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."

Obama added that the U.S. "will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home."

PHOTO: Malaysia Airlines says it has lost contact with an airliner over Ukrainian airspace.
EMPR
PHOTO: Malaysia Airlines says it has lost contact with an airliner over Ukrainian airspace.

At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, grieving family members gathered as airline officials briefed them.

PHOTO: Family members of passengers killed in the crash of Air Malaysia flight MH17 leave Schiphol airport in a bus on July 17, 2014 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Robin Utrecht Photography/Getty Images
PHOTO: Family members of passengers killed in the crash of Air Malaysia flight MH17 leave Schiphol airport in a bus on July 17, 2014 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Officials said family members will be flown to Kiev.

PHOTO: The family member of a passenger killed in the crash of Air Malaysia flight MH17 grieves as he waits on a bus to depart Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Robin Utrecht Photography/Getty Images
PHOTO: The family member of a passenger killed in the crash of Air Malaysia flight MH17 grieves as he waits on a bus to depart Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

This is the second Malaysia Air plane to be involved in a crash this year.

On March 8, Malaysia Air Flight MH370 vanished with 239 people on board after it took off from Kuala Lampur bound for Beijing. Malaysian officials said the plane disappeared somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean, but no wreckage has ever been recovered.

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