KIEV, Ukraine — A day after a Malaysia Airlines plane traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine, the Malaysian transportation minister said he believed the crew bore no responsibility for the deadly flight plan.
“The flight path taken by MH17 was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization and by the countries whose airspace the route passed through,” said Liow Tiong Lai at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. “Fifteen out of 16 airlines in the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines fly this route over Ukraine.”
The crash, which U.S. officials believe was caused by a surface-to-air missile, spread wreckage over a wide area in the contested territory around Donetsk and is presumed to have resulted in the deaths of all 298 people on board. Ukrainian officials have blamed pro-Russia separatists who control large parts of the area; the rebels have denied any involvement.
Both Liow, who took over the minister job from interim predecessor Hishammuddin Hussein just several weeks ago, and Malaysia Airlines have come under fire for the pilots’ decision to fly that route. Critics note that they chose the path despite the recent danger faced by Ukrainian military transport planes at the hands of rebel fighters — and even though a number of European and other airlines had been choosing to circumvent the troubled airspace.
Liow — who said that Malaysia Airlines would send a team of 62 to Kiev to assist with the post-crash efforts — added that there had been “no last-minute instructions” to change the flight plan and called for an independent investigation into the incident.
But determining the circumstances that led to the downing of the plane won’t be simple. While aviation disasters tend to spur high levels of multinational cooperation, that’s far less likely here given the politically charged nature and geography of Thursday’s crash.