On Its Way To Kuala Lumpur, Plane Brought Down Over Ukraine

Many experts question the decision to fly near the fighting in Ukraine. Some airlines have circumvented the country for weeks. In March, a Malaysia Airlines plane went missing on a flight to Beijing.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, all through this morning, we are tracking the crash of a Malaysian jetliner in Ukraine. The available evidence suggests a missile shot down the plane, though there's a fierce argument over whether Ukraine's pro-Russian separatists did this. We go next to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, which is where this plane was bound. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is at the airport, and, Anthony, what have you been seeing today?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: We've been seeing people with a horrible sense of deja vu here, Steve. It's only been just over four months since Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. Again, family members get calls late in the middle of the night, government officials, airline officials all scramble to the airport. Now, more than half of those on board were Dutch citizens, but several dozens were Malaysians. And those Malaysians are saying, why us again, against all odds? Why did this have to happen during the holy month of Ramadan in a Muslim-majority country? Initially, there was some anger among the families here at the airport who couldn't find out if their loved ones were on the plane. And the airline is trying to contact the next of kin first, and they say then they're going to release the flight manifest so we know who all is on board.

INSKEEP: So we're in a situation where - it's horrible to say this - but people are used to this. People have seen all of this before. Is that deepening, the sense of loss, where you are?

KUHN: Well, the problem is, Steve, that they haven't really recovered from the last one. It caused a national crisis, somewhat of a political crisis - a national period of mourning. As for the airline, at the time, you know, there was a furious reaction in Malaysian society and also in China, where many of the passengers came from. For example they did not announce that the plane was missing for six hours. Well, they did it differently this time; they announced it very quickly. Also Malaysia Airlines had a pretty good safety record going into this. Since then - since the last disaster, and the plane still has not been found - the airline's bookings have plummeted, Chinese and other tourists have stayed away in droves. So they're still recovering from it all.

INSKEEP: Anthony, I found myself in the last half-day or so wondering what Malaysian authorities think they can do about this. There's the question of responsibility - who's responsible for that missile? Do you blame pro-Russian separatists? Do you in turn then blame Russia? And if you do, Malaysians would have to ask, what can they do about Russia? What could they do against Russia? Are there any options for Malaysian authorities at this point?

KUHN: Well, the first thing they've to do, Steve, they've had to make it clear that this was not the fault of the airline. And in press conferences today, Malaysian's transportation minister laid that out very clearly. First of all, the aircraft - the same thing as last time, the same kind of Boeing plane - was airworthy, had a clean bill of health. Also the route that it was flying from Amsterdam, they've said that several aviation authorities had told them that it was safe to go, even though some other planes had avoided that route.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KUHN: So the question now is, you know, can they get to that site? Is it safe enough for them to go and investigate this situation? Can they find out who did it, and can they be held to account?

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks very much as always.

KUHN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's at Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia. That was the destination of the Malaysia Airline's plane that was shot down apparently as it flew over Ukraine yesterday - nearly 300 people killed in that crash. And we'll continue following that story and its ramifications throughout the day.

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