Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region on Thursday. The Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian militants on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said. (Reuters News Service)
GRABOVO Ukraine - Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed in a field in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, a Reuters reporter said.
An emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene, near the village of Grabovo, and that debris from the wreckage was spread across an area up to about nine miles in diameter.
Broken pieces of the wings were marked with blue and red paint - the same colors as the emblem of the Malaysian airline which lost track of a Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was carrying almost 300 people.
"I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke," said a witness, who gave his name only as Vladimir.
A separatist rebel from nearby Krasnyi Luch who gave his name only as Sergei said: "From my balcony I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then heard two explosions.
He denied the rebels had shot the plane down.
"This could happen only if it was a fighter jet or a surface-to-air missile (that shot it down)," he told Reuters, saying the rebels did not have weapons capable of shooting shoot down a plane at such a height.
All 295 people aboard the plane were killed, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said, blaming "terrorists" using a ground-to-air missile.
Ukraine's prime minister called the downing of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur a "catastrophe".
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Friday he was shocked by reports a Malaysia Airlines plane had gone down over Ukraine and he was launching an investigation.
"I am shocked by reports than an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation," Najib said on his Twitter feed. MH is the code for Malaysia Airlines.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday discussed a downed passenger plane along the Russian-Ukraine border during a phone call in which Obama warned Moscow of more sanctions if it does not change course in Ukraine.
"I can confirm that President Putin near the end of this morning's phone call with President Obama noted the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Earnest, briefing reporters on Obama's Air Force One flight from Washington to Delaware, said Obama was briefed by his advisers on the crash and directed top U.S. officials to remain in close contact with Ukrainian officials.
"I can confirm that we’ve seen those reports but I'm not in a position to confirm any of the details at this point," Earnest said.
The Obama-Putin phone call was made at the request of Moscow a day after the United States and European countries imposed new sanctions on Russia over its aggression against Ukraine.
The new round of U.S. sanctions included penalties against Russia's largest oil producer, Rosneft and other energy, financial and defense firms.
Obama told Putin "additional steps are on the table if Russia doesn't change course," Earnest said.
The United States is committed to ensuring that this international norm of countries respecting the territorial integrity of other countries is prioritized." "The president's made clear that the international community, the United States and our European allies are willing to take steps and impose economic costs on Russia if they decline to respect those basic norms," Earnest said.