Aircraft downing may be ‘terrible tragedy’, says Obama

US trying to find out how many Americans on flight

President Barack Obama said the US was trying to determine if any Americans were on board. Unconfirmed US media reports put the number of Americans at 23 among the 295 passengers on the flight. Photograph: EPA

President Barack Obama said the US was trying to determine if any Americans were on board. Unconfirmed US media reports put the number of Americans at 23 among the 295 passengers on the flight. Photograph: EPA

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:00

President Barack Obama said the downed Malaysian Airlines plane “looks like it might be a terrible tragedy”, adding the US was trying to determine if any Americans were on board. “That is our first priority,” he said. The Obama administration will “offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened, and why,” he said at the start of a speech on a visit to Delaware.

Earlier, Russian president Vladimir Putin during a phone call with Mr Obama noted the initial reports of the crashed Boeing 77. The Kremlin put out a short statement saying: “The parties had a detailed discussion about the crisis in Ukraine.”

Mr Putin repeated the need for an immediate ceasefire and objected to what he said was Ukrainian army fire striking inside Russia. Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, the insurgent group in eastern Ukraine, denied in a telephone interview the rebels had anything to do with the loss of the passenger aircraft.

He said the rebels had shot down Ukrainian aircraft before but that their anti-aircraft weapons could reach only to about 4,000m, far below the cruising level of passenger jets: “We don’t have the technical ability to hit a plane at that height.” He said the flight apparently came down in an area of Ukrainian military operations and it was not out of the question the Ukrainians themselves shot it down.

“Remember the Black Sea plane disaster?” he said, referring to the 2001 crash of a Siberian Airlines passenger jet bound for Novosibirsk from Tel Aviv the Ukrainians shot down by accident during a military training exercise.

Unconfirmed US media reports, citing the flight manifest, put the number of Americans at 23 among the 295 passengers and crew travelling on the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight, but the US state department was unable to confirm that number. – (additional reporting New York Times)