Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 commercial jet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Air Algerie loses contact with plane over west Africa

Yahoo – AFP, 24 July 2014

A Swiftair MD-83 airplane is seen in this undated photo. Authorities have lost
 contact with an Air Algerie flight en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to
 Algiers with 110 passengers on board, Algeria's APS state news agency and a
Spanish airline company said on Thursday. (REUTERS/Xavier Larrosa)

Algiers (AFP) - Air Algerie said Thursday it had lost contact with one of its passenger aircraft nearly an hour after takeoff from Burkina Faso bound for Algiers.

A company source told AFP that the missing aircraft was a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and that some 110 people of various nationalities are listed as being on board the flight.

The source said contact with the aircraft was lost while it was still in Malian airspace approaching the border with Algeria.

Despite international military intervention still under way, the situation remains unstable in northern Mali, which was seized by jihadist groups for several months in 2012.

On July 17, the Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers aimed at securing an elusive peace deal, and with parts of the country still mired in conflict.

"The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route," the Air Algerie source said.

"Contact was lost after the change of course."

The airline announced that the plane had gone missing in a brief statement carried by national news agency APS.

"Air navigation services have lost contact with an Air Algerie plane Thursday flying from Ouagadougou to Algiers, 50 minutes after takeoff," the statement said.

It added that the company initiated an "emergency plan" in the search for flight AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week.

One of Algeria's worst air disasters occurred in February this year, when a C-130 military aircraft carrying 78 people crashed in poor weather in the mountainous northeast, killing more than 70 people.

The plane was flying from the desert garrison town of Tamanrasset in Algeria's deep south to Constantine, 320 kilometres (200 miles) east of Algiers.

Air Algerie loses contact with plane over west Africa

Tamanrasset was the site of the country's worst ever civilian air disaster, in March 2003.

In that accident, all but one of 103 people on board were killed when an Air Algerie passenger plane crashed on takeoff after one of its engines caught fire.

The sole survivor, a young Algerian soldier, was critically injured.

In December 2012, two Algerian military jets on a routine training mission collided in mid-air near Tlemcen in the northwest, killing both pilots.

A month earlier, a twin-turboprop CASA C-295 military transport aircraft, which was carrying a cargo of paper for the printing of banknotes in Algeria, crashed in southern France.

The five soldiers and one central bank representative on board were all killed.

At least 42 killed in Taiwan plane crash: officials

Yahoo – AFP, Amber Wang, 23 July 2014

Sheng Ching (2nd left) -- the Director of Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration --
speaks to reporters at the Sungshan airport in Taipei, on July 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/
Sam Yeh)

At least 42 people were killed in a plane crash in Taiwan on Wednesday, officials said, with witnesses and local media reporting the flight came down in a storm after an aborted landing.

TransAsia Airways flight GE222 was carrying 58 people on a domestic flight when it crashed into houses near Magong airport on the Penghu island chain after requesting a second attempt to land there, local media reported.

The ATR 72-500 twin turboprop was flying from the southwestern city of Kaohsiung to the islands off the west coast and had been delayed due to bad weather as Typhoon Matmo pounded Taiwan, according to the authorities.

Journalists wait in front of a TransAsia
 reservations desk at Sungshan airport in
 Taipei, on July 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/Sam
"We have found 42 bodies and some body parts so far," an official surnamed Tsai at the Penghu county fire department told AFP early Thursday.

Television images showed firefighters working in heavy rain to douse the mangled plane and soldiers on the scene.

"There were 58 people on board including four crew members, four children and, so far, according to the information we have, 12 were injured and were sent to hospitals while 46 were missing," Transport Minister Yeh Kuang-shih told reporters earlier.

Two French nationals were on board the plane and the de facto French embassy had been notified, Yeh said.

Plane 'came down in storm'

There were no immediate reports of casualties on the ground after the plane smashed into houses in the village of Sisi, a couple of kilometres (about a mile) from Magong airport.

"I heard a loud sound and my instinct was that it's a plane crash," a villager surnamed Wang was quoted as saying by the Apple Daily Newspaper website after the plane crashed next to his home and damaged his house.

Wang said he smelt gasoline and saw some passengers with blood on their faces and bodies brought out of the plane.

Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration director general Shen Chi earlier said 51 were feared dead in the crash, but later revised the figure to 47.

"The control tower lost contact with the aircraft soon after they requested a go-around (second attempt to land)," Shen told reporters.

The plane had requested a second attempt to land at just after 7:00 pm (1100 GMT).

Local fire chief Hung Yung-peng told TVBS there were 11 survivors, with all others on board feared dead.

"The weather was bad and some witnesses said there were storms and lightning when the plane went down," said Hung.

"We rushed 12 people to hospitals soon after our arrival. One died at the hospital. We kept searching for the other passengers from the wreckage but with more and more bodies pulled out, I'm afraid the rest of them might be dead," Hung said.

Several television stations also quoted witnesses saying the plane was on fire before it crashed.

Anxious relatives

Television footage showed anxious relatives of passengers gathered at TransAsia's counter at Kaohsiung airport, with one woman sitting on the floor and wailing after she could not get in touch with her daughter.

TransAsia Airways president Chooi Yee-choong bowed in front of television cameras to apologise for the accident.

An airline official speaking on local television identified the pilot as 60-year-old Lee Yi-liang and co-pilot Chiang Kuan-hsin, 39, saying they had both accumulated more than 20,000 flight hours.

"He worked so hard to become a pilot, who can give me my brother back," Chiang's sister was quoted as saying by the Central News Agency.

French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR said the plane was manufactured in June 2000.

"At this time, the circumstances of the accident are still under investigation," it said in a statement, adding that the Aviation Safety Council of Taiwan would be in charge of the probe.

President Ma Ying-jeou's office said it was a "very sad day in Taiwan's aviation history".

"All Taiwanese people feel the sorrow and will provide the survivors and families of the deceased the biggest support and assistance," it said in a statement.

"President Ma Ying-jeou is very saddened... and has instructed relevant units to clarify the case soon."

Chinese President Xi Jinping was "deeply grieved" and extended his condolences to relatives of the victims, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Beijing also offered to provide assistance to its neighbour, and former bitter rival.

TransAsia, Taiwan's first private airline, also flies to China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam and is due to launch the island's first low-cost airline later this year.

Related Article:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

FAA bars US airlines from Israel for 24 hours amid Gaza crisis

Yahoo – AFP, July 23, 2014

FAA bars US airlines from Israel for
24 hours amid Gaza crisis (AFP)
Washington (AFP) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned US airlines Tuesday from flying to and from Israel for at least 24 hours amid safety concerns sparked by the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

The US government agency said its prohibition applied only to US air carriers, and that "updated instructions" would be issued "as soon as conditions permit."

Delta, US Airways and United Airlines had earlier halted flights to and from Tel Aviv's main Ben Gurion International Airport, amid reports of a rocket strike nearby.

"Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by US operators are prohibited until further advised," said the FAA's Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, issued shortly after 1600 GMT.

"This NOTAM will be updated within 24 hours," it added.

In a press statement, the FAA said it immediately notified US carriers when it learned of the rocket strike, informing them that a NOTAM was in the works.

Prior to the NOTAM being issued, however, Delta announced it had diverted a Tel Aviv-bound flight to Paris after "reports of a rocket or associated debris" near the airport.

"Delta, in coordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration, is doing so to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees," it said in a statement.

US Airways meanwhile told AFP in a Twitter exchange it had canceled its flights Tuesday between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv "in response to security concerns" at Ben Gurion airport.

And United said: "We're suspending operations to/from Tel Aviv until further notice. We'll continue to evaluate the situation."

It was more discreet on its website, where it said its two flights Tuesday to Tel Aviv from Newark airport outside New York had been "canceled due to aircraft availability."

Fears of a rocket hitting a passenger airliner have surged worldwide after last week's downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over eastern Ukraine with nearly 300 on board.

That incident underscored the vulnerability of commercial aircraft to surface-to-air missiles, even at cruising altitudes in excess of 30,000 feet.

Delta said its diverted flight Tuesday was a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers as well as 17 crew on board, and that it was "working to reaccommodate these customers."

Planes of German airline Lufthansa wait on the airfield at Duesseldorf
 International airport, March 13, 2014, in Germany (AFP Photo/
Patrik Stollarz)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Putin 'will help recover bodies, black boxes': Dutch PM

Yahoo – AFP, 20 July 2014

Dutch Prime minister Mark Rutte gives a press conference in The Hague, on
July 20, 2014, about the situation of the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
in eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday promised Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte he will help retrieve bodies and black boxes from the Ukrainian rebel-held crash site of flight MH17.

Putin, who is believed to exert influence on the pro-Russia rebels, made the promise in his third conversation with Rutte since Thursday's crash, the Dutch government press service RVD said, amid growing international anger over the stranded bodies.

"Besides allowing unrestricted access to the crash site, the conversation focused on practical matters, namely the departure of the train that has many bodies and the handing over of the black boxes," a spokeswoman for the government press service RVD told AFP, asking not to be named.

"On both points Putin promised his full cooperation," the spokesman said.

Most of the 298 people on the Malaysia Airways flight, likely brought down by a pro-Russian rebel missile, were Dutch.

Around 200 bodies taken from the site in eastern Ukraine are being held in refrigerated trains nearby, pending the arrival of international investigators.

Ukrainian rebels have said that they have the black boxes, crucial in the crash investigation.

OSCE inspectors, part of the monitoring mission to Ukraine, document bodybags
 from MH17 in a refrigerated wagon at Torez train station, near the crash site,
on Sunday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

Members of the security council vote on a resolution concerning access to the crash
site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 during a security council meeting at United
Nations headquarters, Monday, July 21, 2014. The resolution was adopted by a
unanimous vote. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP
'We have one aim, to get our people back,' Dutch prime minister says

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy,Recalibration LecturesGod / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) -(Text version)

“… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Batik Air to Use 13 New Aircraft This Year to Serve Indonesia’s Eastern Region

Jakarta Globe, Eko Adityo Nugroho, Jul 21, 2014

A Batik Air aircraft at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport’s Terminal 3
in Jakarta on April 25, 2013. (JG Photo/Safir Makki)

Jakarta. Batik Air, a full-service carrier unit of Lion Air group, will use 13 new aircraft this year, adding to the six planes it operates now to boost service to Indonesia’s eastern region.

The 13 aircraft will be composed of seven Airbus A320-200 and six Boeing 737-800, said Achmad Lutfie, the president director at Batik.

“With the arrival of 13 new planes, by the end of this year, our fleet will consist of 19 planes,” he said recently.

The planes will gradually arrive starting from August until the end of the year. Batik Air now flies six 737-900ER aircraft.

Achmad said Batik will add some flights to some existing routes as well as adding new ones.

”For example, the Ujung Pandang [Makassar, South Sulawesi province]-Ternate [Maluku island] route will be increased from two to five flights a day. For the opening of some new routes, those include Ujung Pandang–Timika [Papua]. This, however, still awaits permits from the Transportation Ministry,” he said.

Apart from few competition and limited flight slots, the route to Indonesia’s eastern territory is expected to increase, along with the economic growth in the region and the rising demand for business trips as well as tourism trips, Achmad said. Average capacity ratio on its planes from Jakarta, starting from early in the morning, is up to 90 percent, he added.

Apart from domestic route expansion, Batik Air also plans to expand into regional flights, such as setting up a Jakarta-Singapore route before the end of this year. This plan also awaits approval from regulators of both countries.

“Singapore is still a popular destination. Should the permits be issued, we plan to fly five times a day,” said Achmad.

Batik Air, catering to more affluent consumers, launched its first service in May last year with the debut route of Jakarta-Manado [North Sulawesi].

Full service means the ticket fare includes meals, baggage and other facilities like inflight entertainment and telecommunication services.

Malaysia Airlines Retires MH17 Flight Code

Jakarta Globe - AFP, Jul 20, 2014

Bystanders look at a board displaying flight information and a ‘Pray for MH17’”
 message at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on July 18, 2014.
(Reuters Photo/Edgar Su)

Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia Airlines said on Sunday that it would retire flight code MH17 as a “mark of respect” for the 298 people killed in a jet crash in violence-wracked eastern Ukraine.

The daily Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur service will instead take on the code MH19 from July 25.

“In light of the recent incident, Malaysia Airlines’ Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur service, MH17 flight number will be retired out of respect for our crew and passengers,” the national flag carrier said in a statement.

“There are no changes to the frequency of our services, and we will continue to operate daily services between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur,” the airline added. “Our thoughts and prayers remains with the families of our colleagues and passengers of MH17.”

Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is believed to have been shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, crashing in rebel-held eastern Ukraine Thursday with 298 people on board.

The flight code retirement is the second the airline has had to do in four months.

It retired flight codes MH370 and MH371 in the aftermath of the March 8 disappearance of Kuala-Lumpur-Beijing flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew on board.

No trace of the MH370 plane has been found, a mystery that has severely damaged Malaysia’s image abroad and left furious relatives of passengers deeply anguished and demanding answers.

Agence France-Presse
Related Articles:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tesla adopts charging standards to put itself on electric car grid

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-07-20

Tesla displays its Model S and charging booths in Shanghai, April 23.
(File photo/Xinhua)

Following the agreement between China and Germany on uniform standards for electric car charging outlets, Tesla is eager to get in on the deal to cut the costs for its power charging stations, said Wu Bixuan, president of Tesla China, in an interview with the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald.

Echoing a recent remark made by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Wu also said that Tesla will open up its patents and refrain from collecting royalties from electric car enterprises in order to help the market achieve an economy of scale.

Chen Chuanshi, director of the electric car division of SAE China, said that by adopting the aforementioned standards, scheduled for rollout at the year's end, Tesla hopes to hook up to electric car power charging network in China, which is vital for its successful operations. In doing so, Tesla will abandon its standards calling for the use of small battery sets and high power charging stations, which may be independent from the national power grid.

Wu Bixuan admitted that the absence of uniform power charging standards would block the development of Tesla and other electric car makers, adding that under uniform standards, Tesla can cooperate with peers in sharing costs.

Singapore Airlines apologises for 'insensitive' MH17 post

Yahoo – AFP, 20 July 2014

A pro-Russia militant walks past a dead body near the crash site of Flight MH17 in
Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Dominique Faget)

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has apologised for posting an "insensitive" comment on social media Singapore Airlinesabout the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash in crisis-stricken eastern Ukraine.

Hours after the Boeing 777-200 passenger jet with 298 people on board went down on Thursday, believed shot by a surface-to-air missile, SIA posted a one-line statement on Facebook and Twitter.

It read: "Customers may wish to note that Singapore Airlines flights are not using Ukraine airspace."

The comment sparked anger among users of social media.

"How about at least acknowledging the terrible event and sending condolences to those families and friends involved instead of this cold, classless update?," wrote a Michael Reif in response.

Hundreds of others joined in the condemnation but some defended the airline, saying it was trying to reassure customers concerned about the safety of their flight route.

"We are aware that our Facebook and Twitter update on Friday morning may have come across as insensitive to some," SIA said in a Facebook posting late Saturday.

"We recognise that the information could have been better communicated and we sincerely apologise if it had offended our customers and anyone else in the online community," it added.

"The post was in response to many requests from our customers who had asked for information about our flight routes for their upcoming flights with us."

SIA acknowledged that prior to the crash it was flying the route taken by MH17 but has since re-routed flights.

World leaders are in agreement that MH17 was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile fired from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine.

Kiev has gone a step further, saying militias using a Russian-supplied anti-aircraft system were responsible.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chinese travelers cancel Malaysia Airlines tickets after MH17 tragedy

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-07-19

A bouquet of flowers placed at an empty Malaysia Airlines counter at
 Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, together with a picture of one of the people
aboard the flight. (File photo/CNS)

Many Chinese travelers have canceled their flights with Malaysia Airlines or asked to switch to another airline after flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, the second tragedy to befall the airline in four months, after the disappearance of flight MH370 in March, reports Yicai, the website of Shanghai's China Business News.

Chinese nationals accounted for around two thirds of the 239 people on board flight MH370, which went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and which has still not been located despite extensive searching. Though there is no evidence to suggest that Malaysia Airlines was at fault for the loss of either flight, the second disaster in a short space of time may prove fatal for its reputation, at least where Chinese travelers are concerned.

Since the disappearance of MH370, in which the response from both the airline and the Malaysian government was widely criticized in China, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia has declined by 40%. Chinese travel agencies had planned to promote tours to Malaysia for the summer peak season but China Environment International Travel Service says after the crash of MH17 on Thursday that its customers who bought Malaysia Airlines tickets have all asked to cancel their reservations or demanded that they travel to Malaysia by another airline.

Malaysia's loss could be Thailand's gain despite the political unrest in the country, as Bangkok will waive visa fees for Chinese nationals from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31 this year in a bid to bring tourists back.

Flight MH17 took off from Amsterdam bound for Kuala Lumpur on Thursday but crashed close to Ukraine's border with Russia, killing all 298 people on board. Pro-Russian separatists have denied they launched the missile that brought down the plane, as reported by major Western news outlets. International monitors have reached the crash site to investigate, according to CNN and BBC.

CORRECTS CITY - Two women pray with others during a prayer session organized
 by former schoolmates of a cabin crew member of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which
 was shot down in Ukraine, at a mosque in Putrajaya, Malaysia Saturday, July 19, 
2014. Malaysia's transport minister said the country is "deeply concerned" that the
site in Ukraine where the Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down with 298 people
onboard "has not been properly secured." (AP Photo/Satish Cheney)

Related Article:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashes in east Ukraine

Plane carrying 295 people may have been shot down near Russian border but government and separatists deny involvement

theguardian.com, Shaun Walker in Kiev, Tania Branigan in Beijing, Alec Luhn in Moscow and agencies, Thursday 17 July 2014

A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in an area of eastern Ukraine where separatist rebels have been engaging Ukrainian military forces in recent weeks.

Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, said the jet may have been shot down.

"We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine armed forces did not fire at any targets in the sky," Poroshenko said in a statement.

Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of the plane, near the village of Grabovo, about 25 miles from the Russian border, according to reporters at the scene.

Emergency workers said at least 100 bodies had been found so far, and wreckage was scattered across an area 9 miles in diameter.

Emergency workers at the crash site. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

"I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke," a witness, who gave his name only as Vladimir, told Reuters.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said Ukraine's air traffic control lost contact with flight MH17 at 2.15pm GMT, approximately 30 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.

"Flight MH17 operated on a Boeing 777 departed Amsterdam at 12.15pm [Amsterdam time] and was estimated to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6.10am [Malaysia time] the next day. The flight was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew onboard." The flight also had a Dutch airline flight number from KLM, KL4103.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, wrote on his Facebook page that the plane had crashed in Ukrainian territory after being hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher. Associated Press said one of its journalists had seen a similar launcher near the town of Snizhne earlier on Thursday.

Credit: Guardian graphics

Leaders of the self-declared Donetsk people's republic denied any involvement, according to Interfax news agency. A member of the republic's security council said rebel weapons only had the capacity to shoot down a plane at 3,000 metres and blamed Ukrainian military forces for the attack.

Poroshenko called for a commission to be set up to investigate the crash. "This is the third tragic incident in recent days after Ukrainian military An-26 and Su-25 jets were shot down from Russian territory. We don't rule out that this plane was also shot down, and we stress that the Ukrainian military didn't take any actions to destroy targets in the air," he said.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian president Vladimir Putin, called allegations that Russia had been involved in the downing of MH17 "stupidity".

Local Ukrainian TV images show smoke from the Malaysia passenger airliner
 that has crashed near the Russian border. Photograph: Universal News And
Sport (Europe)

Peskov told the Guardian that the Kremlin would not make a further statement on the tragedy because "no one knows" who is responsible.

Asked about the possibility of further US sanctions in light of this bloody development in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Peskov said he could not rule it out.

"The United States has recently been conducting a very non-constructive policy, and their actions are very unpredictable," he said.

Speaking in Delaware, Barack Obama said his administration was seeking "to determine whether there were American citizens onboard".

"That is our priority. And I've directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government. The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. As a country our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home."

Earlier, Obama and Putin spoke on the phone about new US sanctions imposed on Moscow over its alleged failure to halt the flow of weapons and fighters to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Several airlines, including British Airways, Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines and Russia's Transaereo announced they would avoid Ukrainian airspace with immediate effect. Lufthansa said it would steer clear of airspace over eastern Ukraine.

At least 30 Dutch-speaking passengers were on the plane, according to two travel agencies which sold tickets for the flight. According to Dutch newspaper websites, several Dutch passports were found near the scene of the crash.

The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, said via Twitter: "I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation."

The country's defence minister tweeted that he was "monitoring closely" claims that MH17 had crashed, saying: "No comfirmation [sic] it was shot down! Our military have been instructed 2 get on it!"

The crash comes four months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, two-thirds of them Chinese citizens. It has yet to be found despite a massive international search, which is still ongoing, but Malaysia Airlines has said it believes everyone on board died when the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

The cause of MH370's disappearance remains a mystery, with investigators suggesting the plane was deliberately diverted from its course, but there was no way of knowing whether the pilots were responding to an emergency or whether there was malicious intent.

That aircraft was a Boeing-777 – the same kind of plane as flight MH17.

In 2001, Ukraine admitted its military was probably responsible for shooting down a Russian airliner that crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 78 people on board. A senior Ukrainian official said it had most likely been downed by an accidental hit from an S-200 rocket fired during exercises.

In 1983, a Soviet jet fighter shot down a South Korean airliner after it veered off course into Russian air space and failed to respond to attempts to make contact. All 269 passengers and crew were killed.

Drones take flight into a world of possibilities

Yahoo – AFP, July 17, 2014

Drones take flight into a world of possibilities (AFP)

Montreal (AFP) - Like a well-trained dog, the HEXO+ follows you faithfully wherever you go. But it doesn't walk besides you -- it's airborne.

Developed by a French start-up, Squadrone System, the six-rotor HEXO+ -- which handily totes a GoPro video camera -- is billed as the first autonomous small drone for the mass market.

It's also a prime example of the many ways in which automation will take to the sky as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, become part of daily life in the not-too-distant future.

Due out in May 2015 with a planned retail price of US$899, the HEXO+ is targeted at extreme sports enthusiasts looking for a way to immortalize their every move.

Users activate it with a smartphone app, then let it fly a few meters (yards) behind them, recording their every twist and turn, up to a top speed of 70 kilometers (45 miles) an hour.

"Making snowboard films is my main activity, so essentially I started using drones a few years ago," said Squadrone System's co-founder Xavier Delerue, a former world snowboard champion.

"At the outset, it was great. It was easy. It was going to change everything -- and then I quickly realized taking good images involved a lot of logistics when it came to using a drone," he told AFP.

Delerue, whose venture has attracted $1 million in Kickstarter funding, plays down concerns that small drones could have a more sinister use, like peering at small children at play in a park.

"Regulations are in place that guard against abusive use," he said.

In North America and in Europe, advances in drone technology have caught lawmakers on the back foot. They are now scurrying to find ways to regulate the skies.

Unlike military drones, drones for civilian use can only operate for up to 20 minutes and usually cannot carry much more than a small camera. But big business is looking to boost that capacity.

In the run-up to Christmas last year, Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, caused a stir with its proposal to use small drones to deliver packages.

Russian fast-food chain Ilya Farafonov isn't waiting. In June it unveiled its first pizza delivery drone, an idea it hopes to extend to the 18 cities in which it operates.

For some drone enthusiasts, food deliveries via drone is a waste of time.

Drones carrying medical supplies

"This is total nonsense. Why the hell would you do that?" asked Andreas Raptopoulos, chief executive of Matternet, a start-up that's exploring ways to put drones to work in developing nations for humanitarian purposes.

"Why don't you use the same technology to save somebody's life when a mother needs medicine, or a child needs medicine... To me, this is where technology works best," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Raptopoulos envisions a network of drones that can ferry food and medical supplies into conflict zones or areas hit by natural disaster.

Matternet has already carried out trial flights in Haiti, and in September, it aims to shuttle blood samples in conjunction with international medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

Since December, the United Nations has used drones in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor rebel activity along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda.

"Used imaginatively, future drones could detect stirrings of ethnic conflict, find survivors amid rubble, or even perform fanciful functions such as body-temperature surveys of populations to hunt killer outbreaks," said Jack Chow, a former US ambassador and expert on global health diplomacy, speaking at the Canadian International Council think tank.

From real estate to crops

News media are meanwhile scoping out the possibilities of drone journalism, with Canadian journalism schools already offering specialized courses on UAV newsgathering.

Aerial photography with drones has also captured the imagination of real estate agents eager to pitch luxury properties in places like Los Angeles or Toronto -- although regulations strictly limit flights in populated areas.

Rural districts remain a more welcoming environment for drone flying, where farms can embrace the technology to evaluate soil conditions, guide tractors or assess the most effective way to spread fertilizer.

Two years ago, French entrepreneur Vivien Heriard-Dubreuil, seeing opportunity in the countryside, founded Flyterra, which is based in New York with operations in Quebec.

"Using drones to maximize harvests is very promising," he told AFP, adding that his drone fleet can also be useful to inspect mines, dams and windmills.

There's a cultural side to the drone revolution as well.

A group of Australians recently launched the I-Drone, which with its powerful video projector has turned outdoor walls in Melbourne into movie screens after dark.

And in Japan, a contemporary dance troupe presented a show in May that explored the relationship between technology and the human body. Scenes featured three dancers -- and as many drones.