Obama: 1 American Among Dead In Airline Crash In Ukraine
By Scott Neuman and Bill Chappell
President Obama said that at least one U.S. citizen, who he identified as Lucas Schansman, is among the dead in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on Thursday.
"Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by separatists," Obama said, noting that it's not the only time in recent months that the pro-Russia rebels have shot down airplanes.
The president referred to the arming of the rebels and the "steady flow of weapons from Russia." He said if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a decision not to arm the separatists, then the flow will stop.
"There has to be a credible investigation," he said. "There must be an immediate cease-fire. Evidence must not be tampered with."
He promised U.S. assistance in the investigation.
The president's remarks at a news briefing on Friday follow a more detailed laying out of evidence by the U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power before a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
Powers said that pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine had been spotted by a Western journalist manning an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system at a location near where MH17 went down just hours before the plane crashed.
"We assess Malaysian Airlines Flight 17... was likely downed by a surface-to-air [SAM] missile, an SA-11, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine," Power said today.
Power said that because of the flight's high altitude, shorter-range missile systems had been ruled out. She noted that one of the missile systems had been reported to be in the area of the crash Thursday, before the plane went down.
Separatists had posted videos and boasts online about downing a Ukrainian plane Thursday, Power said, adding that some of those materials have since been deleted.
"Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems," Power added.
The U.S. isn't aware of any Ukrainian SA-11 systems in the area where the crash occurred, Power said. She added that the Ukrainian military hadn't fired any anti-aircraft missiles since the fighting began, despite incursions by Russian planes.
Power spoke at an emergency session of the council. The meeting began with all of the diplomats and their staff members standing to observe a moment of silence for victims of the crash.
As they try to piece together how Flight MH17 was brought down, U.S. experts are analyzing a recording released by Ukraine's government that it says is a string of intercepted phone calls in which separatist rebels acknowledge that they shot down an airliner.
However, as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, U.S. intelligence has not yet publicly authenticated the recording.
"Privately, U.S. officials say they suspect separatist rebels were behind the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17," Dina reports. "U.S. officials say they are still analyzing the audio. They are also using algorithms and mathematics to pinpoint where the missile was fired from."
The fate of the flight's "black box" data recorders remains in question. After the separatists said they had recovered them from the crash site, Ukrainian officials disputed that account. And while some reports stated that the flight recorders might be sent to Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow has "no plans to seize the flight recorders," according to state-owned news agency RT.
Reporter Noah Sneider is in the Donetsk region; he says he has seen separatists near the wreckage.
"They have taken control of the crash site, because they're in control of this region," Sneider tells NPR's Newscast unit. "The Ukrainian forces have a position not too far from here, but for the most part, this stretch of road is controlled by the rebels.
"They were the first ones on the scene," he adds, "and they're the ones who are now guarding the entrances to it."
Saying that Ukrainian authorities still aren't being given full access to the crash site, Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, says security forces will create a corridor so that "Ukrainian experts and international experts will be allowed to hold a vast international investigation."
That's according to The Guardian which quotes Yatsenyuk saying, "This is a crime against humanity. All red lines have been crossed."
Passengers And Flight Route
Malaysia Airlines executive Huib Gorter says that an "initial cash payment of $5,000 per passenger" is being offered to the victims' next of kin, to help them with expenses as they cope with the aftermath of Thursday's crash.
In a news conference at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, Gorter said that Malaysia Airlines and other international carriers had been using the same route, making the crash a "tragic incident that could have happened to any of us."
He said they are all now avoiding the airspace.
Of the plane, Gorter said that it had been built in 1997 and that all systems were functioning normally when it was last checked out earlier this month.
Gorter gave new details about those aboard the flight, saying that 189 of the flight's passengers were from the Netherlands; 44 were from Malaysia, and 27 from Australia. People from seven other countries were also on the plane; none of those reported so far are from the U.S. The nationalities of four passengers remain unverified, he said.
Of the flight routes over eastern Ukraine, NPR's David Schaper reports, "There had been no warnings about that area from the FAA, nor from the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization." David adds that the airspace over Crimea, which seceded from Ukraine earlier this year, has been under restrictions since April.
Parts of the crash site are still smoldering today; photos from the scene show parts of the plane and personal items scattered around open fields. And a video that reportedly shows the aftermath of the crash shows debris falling through a cloud of thick black smoke.