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Airlines Warned About Ukrainian Airspace Before MH17 'Attack' But Continued As It Was 'Cheaper'

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Airlines had been warned to avoid the route over Ukraine because of the violence below, however many carriers continued to use it because it was shorter and therefore cheaper, according to aviation experts.

Almost 300 people have died including up to 10 Britons after a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was apparently shot down near the Russia - Ukraine border.

Flight MH17 - a Boeing 777-200ER travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur - was in transit over the war-torn region when it disappeared from radar screens.

Graphic images and footage showed a pall of smoke, charred wreckage and bodies at the crash scene in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine village of Grabovo.

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A general view shows the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo

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The Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine

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A close-up of the debris from the Malaysia Airlines plane

But according to Norman Shanks, the former head of group security at airports group BAA, and professor of aviation security at Coventry University, the route would now likely be closed to commercial carriers.

He said: "It is a busy aviation route and there have been suggestions that a notice was given to aviators telling airlines to avoid that particular area. But Malaysia Airlines, like a number of other carriers, have been continuing to use it because it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money. I expect the area will be declared a no fly zone and aircraft will have no choice but to take a different, longer route."

Prof Shanks said it was "extremely unusual" for political disputes to spill over and endanger the lives of civilians travelling in commercial flights in the skies above. And he suggested those behind the shooting "deliberately" targeted a passenger plane as it would have been obvious from its appearance that it was a commercial aircraft and posed no military threat.

He said: "This is probably the first time this has happened in recent history. The aircraft was flying at such a height that it is unlikely to have been a military aircraft. You would be able to tell it was a civilian aircraft not a military aircraft with the naked eye because of the jet plumes behind it.

"This would almost certainly have to be a deliberate act, for whatever reason - we can only speculate. It should have been quite visible to people on the ground that it was a civilian aircraft, by the size of it and the shape of it. Anyone who has looked at a civilian aircraft or large military aircraft will know the difference."

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He said the plane's black box could contain vital clues to help piece together what the pilots knew during their final moments in the cockpit. But he warned that tracing the flight recorders could be very tricky as they are probably "now in a war zone" somewhere in the Ukraine. He added: "The pilots and passengers could well have been totally unaware that this missile was heading for them."

The suspected shooting down of a large passenger plane while flying at altitude presents airlines and their passengers with an extremely serious new development in air travel. They also question the future of Malaysia Airlines - caught in the global glare of bad publicity following the disappearance of flight MH 370 earlier this year.

If today's incident is confirmed as a deliberate act then Ukraine airspace could well be closed down, meaning diversions for UK carriers who currently fly to and over the area. "This could be a very serious development," said David Kaminski-Morrow, air transport editor of Flightglobal magazine.

He went on: "If reports are true, we are not talking about small-arm fire but serious weaponry. Normally even if planes fly over a war zone they can go high enough for the conflict not to be a worry. Any decision about the opening or closing of Ukranian airspace will be a matter for the Ukrainians. It could well be that part or all of that airspace will now be closed. Also, individual airlines, including UK carriers, could decide to detour around Ukraine."

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Mr Kaminski-Morrow continued: "It's really quite incredible that it should be Malaysia Airlines involved in this, after what happened earlier in the year. This is not a small airline on a faraway route. This was a major airline flying from a European destination to a capital in the Far East. There must be serious concerns about how the airline can recover from this. There will obviously be political as well as aviation concerns from all this. This will run and run."

Interfax news agency said the plane came down 20miles (50kms) short of entering Russian airspace. It "began to drop, afterwards it was found burning on the ground on Ukrainian territory," an unnamed source said.

Reuters quoted emergency service personnel at the scene who said body parts from the plane's passengers are scattered around up to 15km from the crash site, and at least 100 bodies were on the ground.

Andrew MacDonald, at defence analysts Vision Gain told HuffPost UK initial reports that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for downing the plane were "quite plausible".

He said: "Earlier today separatist fighters claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 ground attack fighter in the area, so the goal may be to create a de-facto no-fly zone in the east of the country in a show of force after their ousting from Slovyansk.

"However, the aircraft will at that stage in its flight will have been cruising at a very high altitude – around 30,000 feet – so would have been well out of range of any shoulder-launched MANPADS weapons you might expect insurgent groups to possess.

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(Reuters) - Russia will cooperate with the investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner a week ago and is satisfied that the Netherlands, rather than Ukraine, is leading the effort, the country's ambassador to Malaysia said on Thursday.

Reuters explains:

The norm under rules set down by the United Nation's civil aviation body (ICAO) is that an air investigation is led by the state in whose territory the plane crash, but Russia had said that Ukraine should not take charge because the rebels who control the crash site did not trust the authorities in Kiev.

Read the full story here.

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Today 9:35 AM EDT
Fixer For CNN Abducted
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Fifty Australian police officers are heading to Ukraine to help secure the Malaysian plane crash site, The Associated Press reported.

The officers will work as part of an international team under United Nations' authority, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

Click here for more.

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The remains of victims of the July 17 Malaysia Airlines crash have been loaded aboard two military transports.

According to The Associated Press, two military planes holding 51 containers of bodies and body parts are ready to fly from Kharkiv to the Netherlands, Ukraine's government said.

For more, click here.

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Ukraine's ambassador to the United States Olexander Motsyk leveled blame for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 firmly with Russia, writing for CNN, "This appalling event would not have happened had Russia not launched its aggression against Ukraine."

Motsyk points to evidence that the missiles suspected of felling the plane were supplied by Russia and ongoing Russian support for rebels in Ukraine, claiming "terrorists continue killing civilians, destroying infrastructure and shooting down Ukrainian planes with Russian weapons."

He urges Russia to "immediately stop supporting terrorists acting in eastern Ukraine and to discontinue supplies of mercenaries and weapons across the border."

Read the article at CNN.

-- Andrew Hart

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Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop vowed to provide whatever support would be needed to secure the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine. She announced that she would be tarveling to Ukraine to discuss the process of securing the site with other leaders. There has been concern over rebels' control of the site has led to crucial evidence being tampered with or allowed to go without examination for too long.

37 Australians were aboard the plane downed last week. Bishop held that Australia's first priority was repatriating its citizens and residents aboard the plane, next would be securing the site. It is being reported that Australian troops could be sent to help secure the site.

Bishop's statement said, "We stand ready to provide whatever support or resources are needed."

More from the AP here.

-- Andrew Hart

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A scholar of Russia and the Cold War argues that the downing of Malaysia Airlines and the Ukrainian fighter jets shot down in the eastern part of the country point to a trend of Russia's role in such incidents.

Mark Kramer of Harvard writes for CNN, "even if the downing of the airliner had been deliberate, it would not have been unprecedented. Indeed, on numerous occasions, insurgents armed by Moscow have deliberately shot down civilian planes." He goes on to reference incidents from the 1970s to 1990s where insurgents that targeted aircraft had apparent Soviet and Russian support.

Read the article on CNN here.

-- Andrew Hart

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BuzzFeed carries Reuters report on the examination of key evidence from the downed Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

More from Reuters

-- Andrew Hart

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Australian couple Anthony Maslin and Rin Norris, who lost their three children in the MH17 crash, as well as Rin Norris' father, penned a devastating open letter describing their grief. "Our pain is intense and relentless. We live in a hell beyond hell," they write, in the letter published by Perth News.

Their children, Mo, 12, Evie, 10 and Otis, 8 , were returning home from vacation in Amsterdam on the Malaysia Airlines flight, the newspaper reports.

The letter continues:

"No one deserves what we are going through.

Not even the people who shot our whole family out of the sky.

No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for our children, for Mo, for Evie, for Otis."

Read the full letter on Perth News here.

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As the U.S. investigates whether the shots that took down two Ukrainian military fighter jets in eastern Ukraine were fired upon from the Russia side of the border, U.S. officials claim that Russia has been taking position near the border with eastern Ukraine.

CNN reports:

Some of the 12,000-15,000 Russian troop near the eastern Ukraine border have broken up into smaller groups and moved within five miles or less of the border, and some are even positioned right at the border, according to two U.S. officials.

-- Andrew Hart

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U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tells CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Russia is continuing to send weapons over its border into Ukraine.

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A separatist commander in Eastern Ukraine confirmed to Reuters that rebels had access to the type of anti-aircraft missiles that is believed to have been used to down Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Alexander Khodakovsky also told the news service that the system may have been brought in from Russia, and may already have crossed the border back into Russia.

"I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk. At the time I was told that a BUK from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR," he said, referring to the Luhansk People's Republic, the main rebel group operating in Luhansk, one of two rebel provinces along with Donetsk, the province where the crash took place.

"That BUK I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence," Khodakovsky told Reuters on Tuesday.

Read the full story here.

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German politicians called on the international soccer association FIFA to move the 2018 World Cup tournament from Russia, Reuters reports. But the Dutch soccer association (KNVB) said it would prefer to postpone the discussion for now.

More from Reuters:

“The association is well aware that a future World Cup in Russia will stir a lot of emotion among Soccer lovers and the next of kin in the Netherlands," the KNVB said.

“Standing still to remember our enormous loss is now the priority. The KNVB believes it would be more appropriate to hold the discussion over the future World Cup in Russia at a later time once the investigation into the disaster is completed.”

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Reuters reports:

The Dutch Safety Board said on Wednesday it had taken charge of an international investigation into the crash last week in Ukraine of a Malaysian airliner in which 298 people died, the majority from the Netherlands.

In a statement, the authority said it would coordinate a team of 24 investigators from Ukraine, Malaysia, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia and the International Civil Aviation Organization. It said four Dutch investigators were operating in Ukraine.

The authority said it would look at whether the Boeing 777's black box flight data recorders had been tampered with. It said it would also conduct separate investigations into the decision-making processes behind flight routes and the availability of passenger lists.

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07/23/2014 11:22 AM EDT
NATO's Role In Ukraine

University of California Political scientist Heidi Hardt analyzes in a Washington Post article what NATO's options are in responding to the MH17 crash. "The 28-member-state transatlantic security organization represents one of the few international actors with the capabilities and potential political will to act," she writes.

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The Guardian reports that the mayor of a Dutch town publicly called for Putin's daughter to be expelled from the Netherlands. Maria Putin is believed to live in Voorschoten in the Netherlands with her Dutch boyfriend.

Mayor Pieter Broertjes made the remarks during a radio interview on Wednesday. He later apologized for his comments by saying they were "not wise."

Read the full story here.

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CBC News is currently carrying a live stream of the somber ceremony at Eindhoven air base in the Netherlands as the first 40 bodies of Flight MH17 arrive via military plane. As the CBC reports, relatives of the dead, as well as the Dutch prime minister, King and Queen are in attendance.

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BBC foreign correspondent Matthew Price reports:

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07/23/2014 9:52 AM EDT
Dutch Military Plane Crash Lands
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