Update: President Obama announced on Friday that at least one American was among those killed in the attack on a Malaysian passenger plane on Thursday.
Earlier, The Associated Press reported that "a large number of world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia were on board a Malaysian jetliner that was shot down over Ukraine."
(CNSNews.com) – A full day after the crash, there's still no word on how many Americans may have been among the almost 300 people killed when the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday.
Some media reports say there were 23 Americans on MH17, a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and President Obama said earlier that efforts were underway to determine if any Americans were aboard.
As of 11:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, an airline spokesman in the Malaysian capital said by phone he still could not confirm whether Americans were among the dead.
Efforts were continuing to verify the nationalities of the last 41 of the 283 passengers, he said.
Earlier, the airline listed the nationalities of the others: 154 Dutch citizens, 28 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Brits, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one Canadian.
Asked for the reason for the delay on information about the remaining 41, the spokesperson said most had transferred at Amsterdam from other airlines and other flights, and some of the passenger details were not immediately available to Malaysia Airlines.
In an updated statement shortly before 11 PM – after President Barack Obama returned to Washington from campaign fundraising events in New York City – White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration “continue[s] to seek information to determine whether there were any American citizens on board.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, said the delay in confirming the presence of Americans on the flight may be because the authorities wanted first to inform the next of kin.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t [confirm even just the fact that there were Americans onboard],” he said on Fox News’ The Kelly File.
“To me any time you raise a mystery about something like this it just creates conspiracy theories we don’t need. This is bad enough without creating extra confusion.”
‘Lots of corpses of women and children’
Ukraine’s government released an audio recording of what it said was an intercepted phone conversation between a pro-Russian separatist commander in eastern Ukraine and a Russian military intelligence officer in which the former confirmed shooting down a plane; and then a second conversation less than an hour later in which one separatist reported to another that the downed plane was “100 percent” a civilian one, observing that “there are lots of corpses of women and children.”
Over recent weeks, pro-Moscow separatists fighting to break away from Ukraine – armed and supported by Russia according the Western governments – have shot down several Ukrainian military aircraft, in one case killing all 49 people onboard.
If the recordings released by the Ukrainian authorities are corroborated, they could suggest that those who shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military one.
Earnest said in Thursday night’s statement that it was “critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible.”
“We urge all concerned – Russia, the pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine – to support an immediate cease-fire in order to ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains.”
Earnest said it was “vital that no evidence be tampered with in any way and that all potential evidence and remains at the crash site are undisturbed. The United States remains prepared to contribute immediate assistance to any international investigation, including through resources provided by the NTSB and the FBI.”
Earlier, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed to those on the ground not to tamper with any evidence at the crash site or remove the black box flight data recorder.