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Plane downed in Ukraine

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is shown Thursday near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. The Malaysian airliner Flight MH-17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides. Reuters1 / 2
People place candles and flowers Thursday at the Dutch embassy in Kiev for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine. Reuters2 / 2

HRABOVE, Ukraine — A lone fireman stood hosing down a smoldering pile of wreckage and mangled bodies Thursday after a Malaysian passenger airliner was brought down in fields in eastern Ukraine.

To reach the wreckage, media crews, emergency vehicles, locals and rebels — fighting to unite the eastern territory with Russia — drove around body parts along a narrow pot-holed road beside the fields, where the dead were strewn over an area of several miles.

The debris from the plane, which came down near the village of Hrabove about 25 miles from the border with Russia, was scattered across such a large area that one piece of metal fell on the town of Snezhnye, some 12 miles away, residents said.

What or who brought down the plane, killing all 295 passengers and crew aboard, was disputed, but there was no doubt that those on board had no chance of survival.

“There was a loud bang. I got scared because it sounded so close. I looked up and there were black bits raining down in every direction,” said a witness, who gave his name only as Vladimir and said he had been working nearby in his tractor.

“Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke,” he said.

A broken wing lay in one part of a wide field and the tail fin in another, the red and blue markings of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 clearly visible.

Twisted hunks of metal, parts of the broken fuselage, also lay by the side of the road, with the seats empty. A large sheet of metal lined with oval holes, where the plane’s windows once were, lay flattened on the scorched earth.

Shirtless local villagers carried bits of the fuselage out of their back yards, lined by weathered wood-picket fences.

Some bodies intact

Some of the victims lying on the ground were naked, their clothing apparently destroyed by the blazing plane and their limbs twisted at awkward angles.

A few bodies were bloodied but still largely intact, though others were in pieces.

Recovery workers left signs where the bodies were found and many were taken away. A travel guide for the island of Bali lay on the ground.

Just three fire trucks, one ambulance and one hearse were parked nearby as pro-Russian separatist fighters in combat fatigues sifted through the wreckage. They were from a local group of fighters known as the Vostok (East) battalion.

One man collected passports from the bodies strewn across the field and drew up a list of the victims’ names.

“From my balcony I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then heard two explosions,” said one separatist from nearby Krasnyi Luch who gave his name only as Sergei.

He denied the rebels had shot the plane down.

“This could happen only if it was a fighter jet or a surface-to-air missile (that shot it down),” he said, noting that the rebels did not have weapons capable of shooting down a plane at such a height.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, disputed that, blaming the incident on “terrorists.” Ukraine’s state security chief accused two Russian military intelligence officers of involvement in the downing of the plane.

U.N. Security Council to meet

The U.N. Security Council will host an emergency meeting on Ukraine today and is mulling a draft statement calling for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation” into what caused the crash of the airliner.

The British-drafted statement, reviewed by Reuters, stressed the need for “all parties to grant immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident.”

Such informal statements by the 15-member council are agreed by consensus. If there were no objections, the statement was due to be issued later Thursday.

But diplomats said Russia had asked for the deadline to be extended until this morning to give it more time to review the three-paragraph statement.

The Security Council is then due to meet to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

The draft statement calls for an investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines and “for appropriate accountability.”

U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman is due to brief the council today, said Rwanda’s U.N. mission, president of the council for July. The meeting was requested by Britain.

“We had already been planning to ask for an emergency session of the council to discuss the situation in Ukraine even before we heard the news (about the plane) and that just makes this session even more urgent,” British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters.

The U.N. Security Council has hosted more than a dozen meetings on the Ukraine crisis, but it has taken no formal action due to the deep disagreements among Russia, Britain, France and the United States, four of its five veto-wielding members.