A Malaysian jetliner shot from the sky by what U.S. intelligence officials believe was a surface-to-air missile scattered wreckage and bodies across the Ukrainian countryside, leaving investigators scrambling Friday to figure out how that could have happened.
Rescue workers, policemen and even off-duty coal miners were combing a sprawling area in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border where the Malaysian plane ended up in burning pieces Thursday, killing all 298 aboard.
For the second time in five months, a Malaysia Airlines plane filled with international passengers and crew did not reach its destination _ an unthinkable coincidence.
The cause of Thursday's crash was not immediately clear but the area has seen heavy fighting recently between government troops and pro-Russia separatists, with the rebels bragging about shooting down two Ukrainian military jets in the region Wednesday, just a day earlier.
Ukraine accused the rebels of shooting down the Malaysia Airways plane. The rebels denied it. Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the downing, saying it was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions _ but did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and not address the key question of whether Russia itself gave the rebels such a powerful missile.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the rebels, a charge that Moscow denies.
American intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down but were still working on who fired it.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it an ``act of terrorism'' and demanded an international investigation. He insisted his forces did not shoot down the plane.
Amid the tensions, Russia's Federal Aviation Agency said Friday that Russia airlines have suspended transit flights over Ukraine.
The crash site itself was sprawling. Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline's red, white and blue markings lay strewn over a field. The cockpit and one turbines lay a kilometre (over a half-mile) apart, and residents said the tail landed about 10 kilometres (6 miles) away, indicating the aircraft most likely broke up before hitting the ground.
Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
More than half the passengers on board (154) were Dutch citizens, with 43 from Malaysia, including the 15 crew members. Another 27 were Australians, 12 from Indonesia and 1 from Canada. The victims included three infants.
Passengers onthe planeincluded a large contingent of world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists headed to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. News of their deaths sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community.
In Kuala Lumpur, several relatives of those aboard the jet came to the international airport. Counsellors were meeting with a few family members in the airport, sealed off from a horde of journalists. One woman emerged in tears.
Ukraine's security services produced what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible. In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane. In the second, two rebel fighters _ one at the crash scene _ say the rocket attack was carried out by insurgents about 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of the site.
Neither recording could be independently verified.