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Q&A with Steve Herman: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

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MH17 Flight path and crash site

MH17 Flight path and crash site

Thursday's crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over eastern Ukraine is the second tragedy this year for the airline. VOA's William Gallo spoke to Southeast Asia correspondent Steve Herman about how Asia is responding to the disaster.

Q: So this is another tragedy for Malaysia Airlines. And this was quite the shock, it happened in the middle of the night. I know Malaysian officials gave a late-night press conference. What are they saying?

A: Obviously Malaysia Airlines wants to assure everyone that its pilots or the aircraft were not at fault. A second mysterious tragedy in such a short time for the airlines could be potentially very serious for it economically. I'm flying, in example, in a few hours on Malaysia [Airlines] to go to Kuala Lumpur to report more about this and obviously many people around the world now are going to have second thoughts about flying the airline, although this does appear, according to U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence officials, to be a shoot down of the aircraft, perhaps mistaken for a Ukrainian military aircraft. And there's no indication whatsoever that there was pilot error or some sort of mechanical fault that brought down MH17 over eastern Ukraine at this point.

Q: Now there is some speculation in international media reports that some airlines, such as Malaysia Airlines, were flying over Ukraine because this was a cheaper route and it was to save fuel. Do you think they'll be heavily criticized for that?

A: I think almost certainly that is going to be heavily scrutinized if not heavily criticized in the days ahead. Airlines of course are very conservative when it comes to savings and fuel costs and they always want to fly the shortest route possible if the airspace is open. And of course, hindsight is 20/20, as we say, meaning it is very easy to look behind this and say that these aircraft should not have been over that airspace. And in fact what we are seeing now is that the eastern Ukraine airspace is being closed and many airlines are deciding not to fly over Ukraine whatsoever now - it's a growing list by the hour. And obviously this is going to be regarded as one of the possibly most tragic mistakes made in modern airline history by flying this passenger jet with so many people over airspace where it was suspected that insurgents did have the type of missiles to reach airplanes and we saw some other apparent shoot downs in previous days.

Q: How are other governments in Asia responding to the disaster? I know that a lot of people on this plane were headed to an AIDS conference in Australia, so we saw Prime Minister Tony Abbott make a statement.

A: Yes, obviously a lot of statements of condolences offered by leaders in Asia. This was a popular time of year for Europeans to head to Southeast Asia, such as the resort island of Bali in Indonesia. We know a number of people on MH17 were headed there. And there were also Malaysian nationals returning to their home country. So this coming so close after the Malaysia Airlines 370's mysterious disappearance is really stunning everyone here in the region.

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