[Updated, and see link to MSNBC falling for a Howard Stern prankster at end]
If a ground-to-air missile did indeed bring down the Malaysia Airlines 777 that crashed in Ukraine today, killing 295 on board, it would have had to have been a sophisticated military system like the Soviet-designed Buk M3 or its later models. Most ground-fired missiles can't reach an airplane at 33,000 feet, but the Buk certainly can.
Here are the some specs on the Buk.
The radar positions etc. are followed in detail on the website Flightradar24.com (it's overwhelmed right now; Flightradar24 says it is adding servers to handle the demand)
The breaking media coverage has been intense of course. The Drudge Report has the expected hysterical links in red type. The Washington Post went out with a very early breaking news report the plane had been shot down by a surface to air missile, that report based on a Ukranian official who had what struck me as an oddly detailed amount of information at that stage, including the type of missile. The Post has now backtracked a bit on that one.
The New York Times has been a lot more cautious on the "shootdown" report, not leading with that and carefully attributing the claim to the Ukranian official. Good for them, of course.
The Wall Street Journal has some excellent breaking news reporting, including some sober insight into the surface-to-air missile question. Like this: "...If a passenger jet was shot down over Ukraine, attackers would have had to use a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system, not the shoulder-fired weapons that are more accessible and easier to use. ... Those weapons, nicknamed manpads, have been used in attacks against commercial aircraft in the past. But their range is much lower than the 30,000-feet cruising altitude."
And there's this from a reader commenting on the main New York Times story: "If the plane was over Ukraine, then it was probably not close to landing airport and flying at between 35000 and 40000 feet over ground (6 to 7 miles above ground). It is doubtful that any country has the capability to shoot down a plane at that altitude, leave alone the rebels in Ukraine."
(The Malaysia 777 was reported to have been at 33,000 feet when it crashed.)
We'll see how this sorts out. But the WSJ item looked a litte off-base by afternoon, when "U.S. officials," who were not identified in reports in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, confirmed that the plane was in fact shot down by a missile. Other reports have come clarification on the capacity of surface-to-air missiles. A shoulder-fired SAM couldn't hit a target that high, but a sophisticated military one could. Still, an air of speculation remains.
If it was in fact a shootdown, let's hope that some hysterics in the media avoid the temptation to try to "localize" this horrific disaster with pointless "what-if" speculation on a threat of surface-to-air missiles. This appears to have been a unique situation to eastern Ukraine if it was actually a shootdown by a ground missile.
There have been NOTAM directives issues in recent months about flying over Ukraine, but the relevant one seems to have been about air-traffic control issues, rather than danger from the ground. It's unclear now what the status of those was because as Twitter and other reports have it, air space in eastern Ukraine had lots of commercial airline traffic at the time of the crash.
If it was not a shootdown but rather a bomb on that airplane, stand by for a nightmare air-travel scenario this summer, with a widespread security crackdown even in the U.S. on laptops and other personal electronic devices.
Meanwhile, the Howard Stern Brigade of pranksters struck again, this time making a dope out of MSNBC anchor Krystal Ball, who aired an interview with a man identified as a soldier in "the U.S. embassy in Ukraine." Even after the prankster said clearly on air that the plane "appeared to have been shot down by a blast of wind from Howard Stern's ass," Ms. Ball pressed on credulously, until the prankster himself told her, "Boy, you are a dumb-ass, aren't you."
This is what happens when TV .... oh, never mind. Cable TV news is just hopeless, and we all know it.
Here's the link: