WASHINGTON (AP) — American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile took down a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, a U.S. official said, but the Obama administration was still scrambling to confirm who launched the strike and whether there were American citizens killed in the crash.
Vice President Joe Biden said the incident was "not an accident" and described the Malaysia Airlines plane as having been "blown out of the sky."
Among the unanswered questions was whether the missile was launched from the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border they share, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name and insisted on anonymity. But the official said U.S. intelligence assessments suggest it is more likely pro-Russian separatists or the Russians rather than Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane.
The U.S. has sophisticated technologies that can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from a rocket engine.
The White House late Thursday said while all the facts were not yet known, "we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel and training."
In its statement, the White House called for a "full, credible and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible."
"We urge all concerned — Russia, the pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine — to support an immediate cease-fire in order to ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains."
It is vital that all potential evidence and remains be undisturbed, the White House said, offering U.S. assistance that could include the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI.
President Barack Obama, speaking during a trip to Delaware, made no mention of who might be responsible for the crash of the plane carrying 298 people, and called the incident a "terrible tragedy."