Malaysian Airlines Copes With A Second Tragedy

Asia correspondent Anthony Kuhn talks with NPR's Scott Simon from Kuala Lumpur about the reaction to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday, killing 298 people.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

From NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. A team from Malaysia is trying to get access to the site in Eastern Ukraine where Malaysian Airlines flight 17 crashed on Thursday. All 298 people on board were killed. However, the site remains in the hands of Russian-backed rebels. They appear to be denying international investigators entry. Malaysian officials say they believe the plane was shot down by a missile - apparently also fired by - forgive me - by the - from rebel-held Ukrainian territory, very likely with Russian help. Now tragically, this is the second Malaysian Airlines plane to go down in less than six months. Our Asia correspondent Anthony Kuhn is in Kuala Lumpur. Anthony, thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about the - Malaysia's efforts to try and get into that crash site.

KUHN: Well, Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai just spoke at a press conference before he headed to the airport to lead a delegation to Ukraine and try to get access to that site. He is concerned that the separatists that are in control of that area may have tampered with the evidence, whether it's the bodies that they're trying to recover or the black boxes, and that could hamper the investigation into what really happened. Let's hear the transport minister Liow Tiong Lai speak about that now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIOW TIONG LAI: Any action that prevents us from learning the truth about what happened to MH17 cannot be tolerated. Failure to stop such interference would be a betrayal of the lives that we lost.

SIMON: Now...

KUHN: So Minister Liow basically appealed for international authorities and Ukrainian authorities to let them get to that site.

SIMON: This would be a lot for Malaysia handle it alone. How are they dealing with this diplomatically?

KUHN: Yes, well, they admit this Malaysian Airlines flight has turned into a geopolitical issue and they're caught in the middle of it with far larger countries like U.S. and Russia on either side. So Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has been working the phone and talking to everybody he can, including President Obama, Russian President Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And essentially, Malaysia is appealing to the world to find out the truth about what happened and hold whoever's responsible for it accountable.

SIMON: Anthony, there have been articles and even some mild debate going back and forth as to whether flight 17 should have avoided flying over that conflict zone. What's the latest on that?

KUHN: Yes, the debate continues. Some people say, well, other flights avoided the area. But Malaysian Airlines said they analyzed the route, they decided it was safe, there was no mistake made. They point out that some 15 Asia-based airlines including Thai and Singaporean carriers fly the same route - some just minutes before or after them, which means that flight was just incredibly unlucky to get hit.

SIMON: And, of course, Malaysia Airlines says it's going to release the final list of passenger's names today.

KUHN: That's right. And there's some really moving stories in there - a Malaysian actress with a young baby, prominent AIDS researchers, an Australian woman who incredibly lost relatives on both Malaysian air flights. Unlike the last one, this time they know what's happened. Bodies have at least been recovered and that brings them that much closer to closure on this.

SIMON: Anthony Kuhn in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks very much for being with us.

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