UPDATED: 20.07.14: MAS confirms death toll at 298

By Doug Newhouse |

UPDATED 20.07.14: Pressure is building on Russia to directly help investigators definitively identify who was responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last Thursday.

The death toll following last Thursday’s appalling shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER in the Ukraine has now been finally confirmed at 298. As reported on Thursday (17.07.14), Malaysia Airlines MH17 was bound for Kuala Lumpur and disappeared from radar after cruising at a height of 33,000 feet. All contact with air traffic control was lost at 13.20 GMT after the aircraft took off from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.


US President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimar Putin both discussed the incident immediately after it happened, as further details of the tragedy have since unfolded, with the most serious allegation made by the government of Ukraine.


It maintains that pro-Moscow forces brought down the Malaysia Airlines plane using a sophisticated mobile long-range ground-to-air missile launcher. This theory is also being backed by the US which has satellite-based missile tracking technology which can detect the ultra-violet trail left behind when there is any significant such launch from the ground.



President Barack Obama talks onboard Air Force One with President Petro Poroshenko of The Ukraine about the Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine on Thursday July 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo: Pete Souza)



The downed aircraft crashed close to the Ukrainian village of Grabovo in a conflict zone which is said to be under the control of pro-Russian separatists.


Apparent lack of respect for the victims of this tragedy by pro-Russian separatist forces in control of this area, plus the overt and deliberate obstruction of crash investigators and the disappearance of the two black box recorders have only further strained relations between the international community and Russia. Recovery of the aircraft’s two black box recorders by independent investigators is now regarded as a top  priority to track the fast-moving events that led to the crash.


As already reported, commercial airlines are now routinely diverting flights to avoid eastern Ukrainian airspace altogether, while calls are growing for more action from the Russian Government. The Dutch Prime Minister has already called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to take a more direct lead in ensuring that all unobstructed assistance that is possible is provided to the investigators.

Similarly, UK Prime Minister David Cameron writing in The Sunday Times today said that if it is proven that MH17 was destroyed by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, then the European Union must protest in the strongest terms.

According to the BBC’s interpretation, this could translate into an EU wave of more aggressive freezing of Russian assets and even more widespread travel bans.



Russian President Vladimir Putin (far end of table) and government officials at the Kremiin in Moscow observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims of last week’s Malaysia Airlines crash.


Meanwhile, in a statement, the International Air Transport Association said: “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the passengers and crew of MH17. Based on the information currently available it is believed that the airspace that the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions”.


Since Thursday’s crash, the Ukrainian authorities have informed EUROCONTROL that they have closed all routes in the area in Eastern Ukraine, while all flight plans that are filed using these routes are now being routinely rejected by EUROCONTROL which says they will remain closed until further notice.


The European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell has also been activated to coordinate the response to the impact of the airspace closure. [EUROCONTROL is involved in almost every aspect of air traffic management in Europe-Ed].

Malaysia Airlines has also released a further statement on the incident and re-routed all of its aircraft to avoid the crash area altogether. The statement reads: “Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur went down in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines confirms that the aircraft did not make a distress call.


“The usual flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.


“As opposed to the earlier statement, the flight was carrying a total number of 298 people – comprising 283 passengers – including three infants of various nationalities – and 15 crew of Malaysian nationality. Some of the nationalities of the passengers are yet to be determined.” [It should be said here that ICAO has since released a statement pointing out that it is not responsible for declaring air space routes to be safe or unsafe, as this is the responsibility of governments-Ed].



The airline said that the nationalities of the known number of passengers and crew who were on board included: Netherlands (192); Malaysia (44 – including 15 crew & 2 infants); Australia (27); Indonesia (12 – including 1 infant); United Kingdom (10 including 1 dual UK/South African)); Germany (4); Belgium (4); Philippines (3); Canada (1); New Zealand (1). Total: 298.

Malaysia Airlines says it is now in the process of notifying the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew: “Our focus now is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support to provide all possible care to the next-of-kin. Malaysia Airlines is deploying its ‘Go Team’ to Amsterdam with a group of care givers and volunteers to assist the family members of the passengers. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”


The Boeing Company in Seattle also released the following statement on Thursday: “Our thoughts and prayers are with those on board the Malaysia Airlines airplane lost over Ukrainian airspace, as well as their families and loved ones. Boeing stands ready to provide whatever assistance is requested by authorities.”

Families of passengers and crew have been given the following telephone numbers for further updates and information: +603 7884 1234 (Malaysia) or +31703487770 (Netherlands).

[TOP ABOVE: This is an image of the latest 777 aircraft model from Boeing. This aircraft and its extended range variants have all proved extremely reliable with international airlines all around the world. Photo credit: The Boeing Company, Seattle].

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