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UKRAINE SEARCHERS COMB SUNFLOWERS FOR PLANE DEBRIS

News Desk | 7/18/2014, 10:57 a.m.
Passengers on the plane included a large contingent of world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists headed to an international AIDS conference ...
Ground staff work on a Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

ROZSYPNE, Ukraine (AP) -- Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners spread out Friday across the sunflower fields and villages of eastern Ukraine, searching the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines jet shot down as it flew miles above the country's battlefield.

The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations - including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia. At least 189 of the dead were from the Netherlands.

U.S. intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, but they did not speculate on who fired it. The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels they are fighting and the Russia government that Ukraine accuses of supporting the rebels all denied shooting the plane down. Moscow also denies backing the rebels.

After holding an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council called for "a full, thorough and independent international investigation" into the downing of the plane.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Friday for a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and urged the two sides to hold peace talks as soon as possible. A day earlier, Putin had blamed Ukraine for the crash, saying Kiev was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. But he did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and did not address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released a video purporting to show a truck carrying the Buk missile launcher it said was used to fire on the plane with one of its four missiles apparently missing. The ministry said the footage was filmed by a police surveillance squad at dawn Friday as the truck was heading to the city of Krasnodon toward the Russian border.

There was no way to independently verify the video.

Access to the sprawling crash site remained difficult and dangerous. The road into it from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, was marked by five rebel checkpoints Friday, with document checks at each.

By midday, 181 bodies had been located, according to local emergency workers in contact with officials in Kiev. In addition to the Dutch, passengers on the plane included 29 Malaysians, 28 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one person each from Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong, according to the airlines and those governments.

Still Nataliya Bystro, a spokeswoman for Ukraine's emergency services, said rebel militiamen were interfering with the recovery operation. She did not elaborate.

Separatist rebels who control the crash site issued conflicting reports Friday about whether they had found the plane's black boxes or not.

"No black boxes have been found ... we hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened," said Donetsk separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai.

Yet earlier Friday, an aide to the military leader of Borodai's group said authorities had recovered eight out of 12 recording devices. Since planes usually have two black boxes - one for recording flight data and the other for recording cockpit voices - it was not clear what he was referring to.