UPDATE: (USA TODAY)- A Malaysia Airlines flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 295 people aboard crashed Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border, reportedly being hit by a surface-to-air missile.
Malaysia Airlines confirmed on its Facebook page that Ukrainian air traffic control lost contact with Flight MH17 about 30 miles from the Russian-Ukraine border. The airline said the plane was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew. All are believed to have been killed.
Victims were strewn up to 10 miles away from the crash site. Their nationalities were not immediately available, but Reuters reports that 23 were U.S. citizens. German broadcaster RTL reported that 71 Dutch nationals were aboard. Nine British nationals and four French were also on the flight..
The crash was the second involving a Maylasia Air flight this year. On March 8, Flight 370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew aboard on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bejiing. Despite one of the most extensive searches in flight history, Flight 370 has yet to be found.
Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Ministry adviser, said on Facebook page that Flight MH17 was at an altitude of 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile fired from a BUK launcher. The BUK is a anti-aircraft system, typically mounted on a vehicle. It can simultaneously track and strike six targets flying different directions and altitudes, according to military think tank Globalsecurity.org.
A similar launcher was seen by AP journalists near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne earlier Thursday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the incident a "terrorist act" and ordered an investigation into the tragedy. He said Ukrainian armed forces did not shoot at any airborne targets.
"We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said. "We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."
Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine and Russian military officials also denied responsibility for the apparent shootdown.
Russian President Vladimir Putin brought up early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border in a phone call with President Obama Thursday morning, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Earnest said Obama "has directed his team to be in close touch with senior Ukrainian officials on this matter."
In brief remarks before a public address in Wilmington, Del., Obama called the the incident a "terrible tragedy." He said the administration was trying to determine whether any Americans were on board.
It was not immediately clear who would have been in control of a BUK anti-aircraft system in the restive area where Ukrainian forces are battling ethnic Russian separatists.
A separatist leader in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, denied that rebel forces had the capability to shoot down a plane at such an altitude.
Alexander Boroday, chairman of the Council of Ministers of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, called the incident a provocation by the Ukrainian military, the Russian Interfax news agency reports.
"We confirm that the plane crashed not far from Donetsk," Boroday said. "Representatives of Donetsk People's Republic have headed to the scene of the plane search."
"Self-defense forces have no air-defense, which could target transport aircraft at that height," he told Interfax.
Russia's military also says none of its military planes have been flying close to the Russia-Ukraine border on Thursday, RIA Novosti reported citing an unidentified military official.
The Malaysian airliner crash occurred in a region where separatists have shot down Ukrainian aircraft at higher and higher altitudes in recent days, says Damon Wilson, a Russia and Ukraine expert in the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
On Wednesday, a Russian military plane allegedly shot down a Ukrainian jet fighter over Ukrainian territory, forcing the pilot to eject, according to the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council spokesman.
Andriy Lysenko told reporters the pilot of the Su-25 assault aircraft was not injured and was rescued by Ukrainian military units.
Pro-Russia rebels, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for strikes Wednesday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely.
"There have been Ukrainian helicopters and aircraft operating under the assumption of limited separatist capabilities," Wilson said. "They've learned quite rudely that the separatists have more advanced weapons."
Separatists have used a version of Russia's Grad rocket that the Russian military only started using in January, Wilson said, citing sources in "U.S. government circles."
"This is not older, former equipment but among the most recent Russian equipment used in the Russian military," Wilson said, who is now deputy executive vice president at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
(CNN) -- A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, prompting a Ukrainian official to say that the flight carrying 295 people had been shot down.
The Boeing 777 was "shot down" by "terrorists" operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system, according to a Facebook post from Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.
The plane went down near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to the post, as it flew at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet).
"We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, according to his website.
He also said he has expressed condolences to Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte about Flight 17, which was headed from Amsterdam to Malaysia. He said he invites Dutch experts to participate in the investigation of the crash, emphasizing that he does not call it an "incident" or a "catastrophe," but a "terrorist action."
Details of the incident are quickly pouring in during the same week that Ukrainian officials said a Russian fighter shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane while the aircraft was in Ukrainian airspace.
Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that it lost contact with Flight 17 and that the jet's last known position was over Ukrainian airspace, the airline said on Twitter.
Reacting to the breaking story, CNN's Richard Quest, an aviation expert, said that it would be "extremely unusual" for an airliner at 32,000 feet to be shot down. From the ground, one could simply look up and tell whether a plane was a commercial aircraft.
"It looks like a commercial aircraft, it squawks a commercial aircraft. So something is absolutely appalling that's gone on here," he said.
FlightRadar24 showed the plane disappearing near Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak tweeted that an investigation will be launched immediately. "I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed," he posted.
And Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ordered that a government commission investigate the crash, a statement from his office said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin "expressed deep condolences" to Malaysia's Prime Minister over the crash, a post Thursday on the Kremlin's website said. He "asked to pass the most sincere word of condolences and support to families and relatives of (the crash) victims," the post said.
Near the end of a phone call Thursday morning with President Obama, Putin noted to the President the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Obama has directed his staff to be in touch with senior Ukrainian officials, Earnest said.
Later Thursday, Obama said the crash "looks like it may be a terrible tragedy" and he said efforts were underway to determine if any Americans were aboard.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is traveling in Detroit Thursday, talked on the phone with President Poroshenko, Earnest said, adding that Biden offered U.S. assistance to help determine why the crash occurred.
The route the Malaysian plane was on, between Kuala Lumpur and the Netherlands, is a common one, CNN aviation safety consultant Mary Schiavo said Thursday. She said that the plane was flying over a troubled area and that close communication with air traffic controllers would be a key necessity.
In hostile or disputed areas, "any alteration from your course, and you can have a problem," she said.
Tensions have been high between Ukraine and Russia since street protests forced former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February. Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine's southeastern Crimea region, and a pro-Russian separatist rebellion has been raging in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Ukrainian forces have been struggling to quell the separatist unrest. Ukraine's government has accused Russia of allowing weapons and military equipment, including tanks, to cross the border illegally into the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
The Pentagon said Wednesday that Russia now has 12,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, as well as some heavy weapons. The troop numbers had fallen to about 1,000 previously from a high of an estimated 40,000 forces earlier this year.