Professor calls shooting down of airliner "preventable"

Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the Ukraine.
An Indiana University professor says the reported shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane was "preventable."

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed with 298 passengers and crew on board in a town in eastern Ukraine. Initial reports indicated an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister saying the plane had been shot down.

"I think it was preventable. I don't think any commercial airliner has any business flying over what is essentially free-fire zone," said Professor Robert Kravchuk.

Kravchuk knows the region where the plane went down well. He's worked there and has many contacts there, who he says are reacting to today's crash with "shock and disbelief."

Kravchuk says it may have been a mistake - a missile fired up what looked like a military plane.

"It's pretty clear that they did not know what kind of aircraft it was. They shouldn't have been shooting at something when he didn't understand what their target was," he said.

In any probe, investigators will have to rule out mechanical causes.

"There is certainly going to be a difference whether something penetrated the aircraft from the outside as opposed to an explosion that was entirely from the inside," said former Indiana air safety expert Clint Oster.

He says the presence of certain chemicals on the skin of the plane will help rule a bomb or rocket attack in or out.

Military planes use countermeasures to ward off missile attacks from ground or air. Some Israeli civilian planes also have the technology, but widespread use of it when shootdowns are so rare is doubtful.

"You're talking about adding some pretty expensive equipment to the aircraft, which would increase the cost of the plane and increase the weight," said Oster.

Instead, he said, airlines "might want to consider diverting."

One Ukraine watcher says international fliers going near crisis zones, if they're concerned, should talk to their airline.

"What is your flight plan? I think it would be best to check," said Kravchuk.