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Downed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17: Here's what we know

Here’s what we know now — and what we’re still waiting to find out — about the downed Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine.
Flowers lie on debris from a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 plane which was downed on Thursday near the village of Rozsypne, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014.
Flowers lie on debris from a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane which was downed on Thursday near the village of Rozsypne, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on July 18, 2014.

At least one American citizen died in the Malaysia Airlines plane crash Thursday in eastern Ukraine, President Obama said Friday at the White House. The nearly 300 passengers and crew on the jet were assumed dead after the plane was taken down by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area in Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

"This was a global tragedy — an Asian airliner was shot down in European skies filled with citizens from many countries," President Barack Obama said Friday at the White House. "This certainly will be a wakeup call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalated conflict in eastern Ukraine." He added that at least one American was among the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The president called for an immediate cease-fire so that a "credible international investigation" can be conducted and stressed that Russia needs to end the conflict.

"We know that [the separatists] are heavily armed and they are trained and that is not an accident — that is happening because of Russian support. [Putin] has the most control over that situation," Obama said in some of his strongest remarks on Russia yet.

Obama's remarks were echoed just hours earlier when U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power declared "Russia must end this war."

Here’s what we currently know — and what we’re still waiting to find out. We’ll be updating this page throughout the day.  

What happens now?

An international investigation will begin, led by the fledgling government of Ukraine with help from the Malaysian government and the Netherlands.

The pro-Russian separatists that control the region are going to complicate the situation as both sides jockey to look like they're in control. 

"Our efforts are complicated by the presence of insurgents in the area," a duty officer for the Ukrainian State Emergency Service told NBC News on Thursday. "The place is controlled by the militants — our people at the crash site are followed by armed men."

Obama said the FBI and National Transportation Safety Board will send investigators who will be able to assist with the investigation. 

Could the plane have crashed on its own?

No. Malaysia Airlines says the plane had a clean bill of health and that all the aircraft’s systems were functioning normally.

So, who shot it down?

The flight was brought down by a missile fired from just inside the Ukrainian border, US officials told NBC News on Friday. They are still trying to determine if it was fired by the pro-Russian separatists or by the Russian military.

Russia has been supplying the separatists with weapons and arms, leading President Obama on Wednesday evening to announce increased economic sanctions against the country. The sanctions impact eight Russian arms dealers, among other companies in the country. U.S. officials also told NBC news that, in recent weeks, the Russian military had stepped up its delivery of heavy weapons, including missile systems, to the separatists. 

On the other hand, Russia and the pro-Russian separatists are blaming Ukraine. “Without question, the state over whose territory this happened bears the responsibility for the terrible tragedy,” Putin said Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency. The Russian president on Friday called for a "thorough and unbiased" investigation into the crash.

Ukrainian officials say they couldn’t possibly have shot down the plane because there were no Ukrainian fighter jets in the air when the plane crashed and that it was out of reach of their weapons. The U.S. has agreed it wasn't Ukraine.

“Today the war stepped out from the Ukrainian territory,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to an NBC News translation. In his address, he blamed the pro-Russian separatists and Russia for backing them. “Today the terrorists with just one shot killed almost 300 people with women, children and citizens of many countries in the world."

He added that the international community "saw the real face of the aggressor as shooting a civilian plane is an act of international terrorism that is targeted against the whole world.”

Who and what was on that plane?

The plane was carrying 298 people. A full flight manifest will be released once officials have finished informing the victims' next-of-kin, but the president announced in his briefing that at least one American citizen was on the plane. Quinn Lucas Schansman, a dual American-Dutch national, died in the crash.

The nationalities of the majority of the other passengers and crew have been confirmed, but authorities are still trying to determine the nationalities of four additional passengers.

Here’s the current breakdown:

  • 189 from the Netherlands
  • 29 Malaysians
  • 27 Australians
  • 12 Indonesians
  • 9 from the United Kingdom
  • 4 Germans
  • 4 Belgians
  • 3 Filipinos
  • 1 Canadian
  • 1 New Zealander  

Indiana University reported Friday that one of their doctoral students was on the plane. Karlijn Keijzer, 25, a Dutch citizen, was studying chemistry and was a member of the women's rowing team during the 2011 season.

Many passengers, including a number of AIDS experts and researchers, were heading for the International AIDS Society conference in Melbourne, Australia. Among those on the flight were Joep Lange, a well-known Dutch researcher, and his wife.

The cargo manifest, released Friday morning, revealed that the plane's cargo included diplomatic mail, cut flowers and other plants, live birds, and a large pet dog.

Where was the plane when it crashed?

While Ukraine does a have a no-fly zone, the plane wasn’t in it when it crashed.

“The flight path taken by MH17 was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and by the countries whose airspace the route passed through. And the International Air Transportation Association has also stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was unrestricted,” Malaysia Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told the media early Friday, adding that Asian and European airlines regularly use the same route, including a number of passenger aircrafts that flew the same route hours before the crash.

“There were no last minute instructions given to the pilots of MH17 to change the route of the flight,” Lai added.

What about the flight's 'black boxes'?

Pro-Russian separatists are claiming to have recovered the flight's data recorders, NBC News reported.

Is it safe to fly?

"It's safe to fly to Europe absolutely, and we always monitor the airspace for safety issues," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on msnbc Friday morning. He explained that no U.S. carriers would be flying over the affected areas in Ukraine.