After a Malaysia Airlines plane was hit by what is believed to be a surface-to-air missile killing all of the nearly 300 passengers onboard as it was flying over the Ukrainian-Russian border Thursday, experts contemplate the future implications of this crash.
There were no survivors on board the Boeing 777 that was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The plane was hit about three hours into its journey and reportedly broke apart before impact. Debris was reportedly scattered in an approximate 4 to 6 square mile area in Eastern Ukraine.
"The initial reports indicate that the plane was flying at about 33,000 feet when it was hit, and that is well beyond the range of these handheld surface to air missiles," terrorism expert and senior adviser to the present of the RAND Corporation Brian Jenkins said. "That suggests a much larger, more advanced air defense system."
At this point, it is unclear who fired the missile. The president of Ukraine said it was an act of terrorism and said his forces were not responsible. The president of Russia, however, said that Ukraine is responsible.
For international travelers, it’s always been a possibility, albeit small, that commercial travel could become a target during conflict.
A century ago, the sinking of the Lusitania by a German torpedo claimed 1,200 lives during World War I. Now, in contested Ukraine, the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 appears to have been caused by a missile fired from the ground.
It is speculated, though unproven, that the missile used may have been launched from a Russian Buk system obtained by rebels fighting to return Ukraine to Russian control.
"Did the rebels have some interest in deliberately escalating the confrontation between Russia and the West?" Jenkins questioned.
In April, after Russia claimed the Crimean peninsula at the southern end of Ukraine, the FAA issued flight restrictions, but they apparently did not extend as far north as where the Malaysian jetliner came down.
Last week, Ukrainian authorities warned pilots not to fly between 26,000 and 32,000 feet above eastern Ukraine. Flight 17 was just above the boundary at 33,000 feet.
Jenkins foresees a further increase in tensions between Russia, under its President Vladimir Putin, and the West--not a reincarnation of the Cold War between Russia and the West, but rather "something more insidious," with more complex layers of contention.
It's believed there are as many as 15,000 handheld surface-to-air missiles from Libya that remain unaccounted for and could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists, Jenkins said. Those missiles, though with less range than the weapon used Thursday, could potentially strike a plane at low-altitude, such as after take-off and on approach for landing.