Recovery efforts - and the search for answers - continues in eastern Ukraine, where Malaysian passenger aircraft, flight MH17 was shot down Thursday afternoon by a missile in the middle of its flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lampur, with the loss of 298 people aboard.
Workers at the site told Interfax they have discovered the bodies of 121 bodies so far in the wreckage of the Boeing 777-200, which is scattered in a 9-kilometer wide strip near Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
Both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the plane. A US intelligence officials told ABC News on Thursday night that Flight MH17 was shot down by a single missile as it flew at its cruising altitude of more than 9,000 meters over the war zone in Ukraine, but stated it is not yet clear where the missile was fired from inside Ukrainian or Russian territory, and who fired it.
The Ukraine government claims it was shot by Russian separatists, and vowed to provide evidence. Many journalists have noted that seperatist forces have deleted their social media references to having anti-aircraft missiles in their possession, and a reference by Igor Girkin, a separatist leader also known as Strelkov, who claimed responsibility on a popular Russian social-networking site for the downing of what he thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane shortly before MH17 was declared missing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine “bears responsibility” for the crash because the plane was brought down in the country.
“This tragedy would not have happened, if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,” Putin said in televised comments, according to Reuters.
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted on Twitter Thursday night that for Russia, "Yesterday afternoon saw the end of the 'Donetsk Republic' ... at least in the Russian media. Now it's Eastern Ukraine again."
Ilves reacted to the shoot down Thursday evening in a couple of tweets, saying: "We need a thorough investigation and those responsible at whatever level must be brought to stand trial at the International Criminal Court. Our thoughts are with the victims of the horrible downing of the Malaysian flight over Ukraine."
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas also tweeted Thursday evening: "Shocked. Sad. Furious. Thorough investigation needed immediately. We should take it extremely seriously."
Retired General Ants Lanneots said that Russia handed over Buk surface-to-air missile systems, also known as the SA-11 Gadfly, and operating staff to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and the aircraft was shot down by a similar system. Laaneots told ETV on Thursday evening that the Ukrainian army has no capability to shoot down a passenger aircraft at its cruising altitude, adding that Ukrainian authorities said several days ago that a Buk system was handed over to the separatists.
“In my personal opinion this is the work of Russians as they need to show how dangerous and unstable the current Ukrainian government is, while seeking reasons to establish a no-fly zone across Ukraine, which would remove air cover from Ukrainian troops,” Laaneots said.
Lanneots said this morning that the separatists might have mistaken the plane for a Ukrainian transport plane.
Malaysian Airlines said that there were 298 people aboard the flight, including citizens of the Netherlands (154), Malaysia 43 (including 15 crew and two infants), Australia (27), United Kingdom (9), Germany (4), Belgium (4), Philippines (3), Canada (1). There were also 43 passengers whose nationality was not immediately known, but media reports stated Thursday that there were 23 Americans on board. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed this morning that there were no Estonians on the flight.
Among the dead, which media reports say include more than 80 children, are more than 100 passengers who were on their way to the 20th International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia. Joep Lange, a famed clinical researcher and former head of the International Aids Society, was also aboard.
A spokesperson for the World Health Organization also confirmed that British spokesman Glenn Thomas was on the flight.
The news service Interfax reported that rebel Russian separatists had found the "black box" recorder, which could provide the key to the crash investigation, and had already sent it to Moscow.
Aviation experts said the black box, comprising cockpit voice and data recordings, would establish without doubt whether the plane was shot down and where the missile may have been fired from.