Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: Ukraine passenger plane crash 'terrible tragedy' says US Barack Obama

295 people were on board the plane which crashed into a field in Grabovo

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The Independent Online

President Barack Obama has called the Malaysia flight MH17 plane crash a "terrible tragedy".

The commercial aircraft had 235 passengers onboard when it was reportedly shot down in the village of Grabovo in Ukraine on Thursday.

An emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene, and that debris from the wreckage was spread across an area up to about 15 km (nine miles) in diameter.

Obama said the US government's first priority was to determine whether American citizens were on board the passenger jet, and would offer any assistance possible to determine the cause of the crash. He made no mention of reports that 23 Americans were on board.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the families of the passengers, wherever they may call home," Obama said during a press conference where he had intended to discuss transportation funding in Delaware.


Following the conference, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, and offered US assistance to help confirm the cause of Thursday's crash, the White House said.

Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Obama discussed the crash in eastern Ukraine, both the White House and the Kremlin confirmed on Thursday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed a phone call took place, in which Obama warned that "additional steps are on the table if Russia doesn't change course."

Ernest added that Obama was briefed by his advisers on the crash and directed top US officials to remain in close contact with Ukrainian officials.

The Kremlin website published a statement late on Thursday that said: "the Russian leader informed the US president of the report from air traffic controllers that the Malaysian plane had crashed on Ukrainian territory, which had arrived immediately before the phone call."

The statement gave no further details about what the leaders discussed with regard to the plane crash.



Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had warned US pilots year not to fly over portions of the Ukraine in the Crimea region, according to notices posted on the agency's website on 23 April.

The UN's International Civil Aviation Organization and the aviation authorities in most countries issue similar notices for areas where unrest or military conflict creates a risk of being shot down. 

The FAA had not issued any new warnings Thursday afternoon in the immediate aftermath of reports that a Malaysian airliner had been shot down over the Ukraine.

The rest of the phone call between the two leaders was dedicated to the general situation in eastern Ukraine, and recent US sanctions against Russian individuals and companies.

Video: Film purports to show the moment plane crashed into ground

The Obama-Putin phone call was made at the request of Moscow a day after the US and European countries imposed new sanctions on Russia over its aggression against Ukraine, including penalties against Russia's largest oil producer, Rosneft and other energy, financial and defense firms.

Additional reporting by agencies