The papers: 'People fell from the sky'

Crash refuse from the MH17 jet disaster Image copyright Reuters

The stark image of a crash site searcher putting a plastic sheet over a body in a sugar beet field adorns the cover of the Independent, and it sums up the horrific human cost of the apparent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

Inside the paper, villagers from the crash site some 25 miles from the Russian border in eastern Ukraine describe seeing an "unimaginable rain" of human bodies cascade to the ground.

One pensioner tells the paper of hearing a roar, followed by the body of a woman crashing through the roof of her kitchen.

The woman's body is still there - waiting for experts to get to the scene, the householder says.

The Sun carries distressing tales from a photographer on the ground who says he saw separatist militia fighters looting possessions from cases of the 298 deceased passengers and crew.

The Guardian says strips of white cotton tied to stakes mark the location of the dead.

"For miles around you can see them... there are a lot of stakes," it adds.

Amid the sunflower fields, lies the tangle of metal that is all that remains of the 777, the area around it awash with passports, handbags, airport novels, sun-cream - the minutiae of planned holidays, the paper says.

An unlikely menagerie of dead pets lie alongside their human owners, the paper says: macaws, a cockatoo, even a St Bernard dog.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Newcastle United supporters laid a tribute to the two "superfans" who died in the Ukraine jet crash

The Times says dozens of Ukrainian villagers are assisting with the search - farmers and off-duty coal miners, mixing with police and other emergency workers.

Lists of the victims occupy many newspaper pages.

The Daily Mirror focuses particularly on some of the dead British passengers: Newcastle United fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney- on their way to New Zealand to follow their team's pre-season tour. John, the paper says, had missed only one Newcastle match in 41 years; Ben Pocock and Richard Mayne, both keen sportsmen and students, who were travelling separately to Australia for extended holidays; Glenn Thomas, an ex-BBC World journalist, on his way to an HIV conference in Melbourne.

Mr Thomas - a World Health Organization press officer - was among 100 people on the flight heading to the event, many of them leading HIV researchers, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Among the victims were Dutch Aids expert Joep Lange, who had been at the forefront of research into the virus for more than 30 years, it adds.

One researcher is quoted by the Telegraph as saying "What if the cure for Aids was on that plane? We don't know?"

Two-thirds of the crash victims were Dutch, and the paper reports that flags flew at half mast throughout the Netherlands on Friday.

Some 22 of the victims were pupils from a primary school from a small town in the south of the country.

The school opened after closing for the holidays to provide counselling for those affected by the tragedy.

"They're inconsolable. This is a small country and nearly everyone is affected," said one resident.

'No obvious reasons'

The press is unanimous in the verdict that the crash was almost certainly caused by a Buk missile system fired by separatist militia and almost certainly supplied by Russia.

Several papers show Ukrainian images purportedly of such a missile launcher leaving Ukraine for Russia, as well as intercepts from the Ukrainian intelligence service which appear to show Russian militia leaders coming close to admitting bringing down the plane.

The Independent thinks the target was likely to have been a Ukrainian military plane. The paper reports separatists had brought down a Ukrainian army transport plane, probably using the same weapon, on Monday.

In the paper, defence expert Justin Bronk explains that the pro-Russian militia had only been using "man-portable" anti-aircraft systems until recently but the increasing use of air power by Ukrainian forces - and their success against the separatists - meant the SA-11 launchers (which fire the Buk missiles) had been increasingly spotted in the Donetsk area.

"Unlike state operators of the system who are linked to national air traffic control networks, the separatists in Donetsk had no information about national flights and probably did not consider the possibility," Bronk writes.

"This is exactly why the international community has up to now been very careful to avoid non-state actors acquiring advanced anti-aircraft systems such as the SA-11 which Russia supplied to its proxies in Donetsk this week," he concludes.

One of the as-yet unknown questions, is why flight MH17 came to be flying over a conflict zone in which a number of aircraft had been shot down recently, the Daily Telegraph says.

The paper reports that a number of airlines, including British Airways, easyJet and Qantas had already changed flight routes to avoid the area, although Malaysia Airlines said there had been "no obvious reasons" to avoid the area.

Nonetheless, the paper says, flight path analysis suggested that other Malaysia planes had skirted the conflict zone, by flying south of the area.

The Telegraph says an expert from the Royal United Services Institute has learned the pilot of the downed flight decided not to change course after apparently telling air traffic controllers he "felt uncomfortable" over the diversion.

The Daily Mail reports that, despite the conflict, the flight path was fairly crowded with a Heathrow-bound Virgin Atlantic jet and a Singapore Airlines plane both over Ukraine at the moment flight MH17 crashed.

The paper says the Singapore jet was just 17 miles away from the doomed flight.

Many papers report the reaction of the Russian media to the disaster.

The Guardian notes that the plane crash was not the lead story of any of Russia's national papers.

The paper said both Russian state television and the country's state-run, English language service, RT, reported that Ukrainian forces had shot down the plane.

The line was too much for RT's London correspondent Sarah Firth to take, the Guardian adds.

She resigned after tweeting: "We do work for Putin. We are asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth."

'Mad world'

Few papers are short of opinions on the MH17 crash.

The Times says Europe "must accept" that "the price of forcing change on Russia's behaviour may have to be measured in more volatile gas prices, lost defence contracts and lost business in the City.

"All are preferable to an expanding war."

Russia, it adds, must "disown and condemn the rebel extremists" and staunch the flow of weapons to them to avoid isolation.

The Independent calls for stern action from Western powers.

"Russia has to be held responsible for what is not far from an act of state-sponsored terrorism," its opinion column says.

"The West failed to act sufficiently punitively when Russia annexed Crimea; it must not fail to do so now," it concludes.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Max Hastings calls Vladimir Putin "a lying brute who has to be shackled".

"He has made Russia an autocracy where free speech is a dead letter," Hastings writes.

"All broadcast channels are state-controlled, and pour forth a torrent of deceits, not least about Ukraine.

"In the mad world Putin has created, a dismaying number of his people are ready to believe such stuff."

"A cruel and dangerous man is rampaging on the eastern horizon. If he cannot be checked there, how can we trust our government to protect us from such threats nearer to home."

In its analysis, the Guardian says the Russian president faces a dilemma over whether to continue to support the separatists in the face of international outrage, or cut them off and allow the Kiev government to crush them.

It quotes Stephen Sestanovich, a former US ambassador to Moscow, who says Mr Putin's next move is hard to predict.

"Putin doesn't like to be put in a corner, and doesn't like to feel he's backed down."

In the Sun, Putin biographer Angus Roxburgh says the Russian president "could not care less what the West says".

"There is little the West can do. In fact, the more we criticise him, the more popular he gets at home.

"There is a siege mentality in Russia and Putin is thriving on it.

"He could be there, legitimately re-elected, for another 10 years."


Apart from the Malaysia jet, the biggest story in the British press is about a meteorological phenomenon - lightning.

The Times reports that 17,000 bolts struck the country in one 24-hour period - 3,000 in a two-hour period on Thursday/Friday night.

The lightning caused fires in a church tower in Caerphilly and a loft in Gravesend, and flung a woman in Tunbridge Wells across her bedroom, but caused no serious injuries, the paper reports.

Image copyright Justin Stokes

Such a widespread electrical storm would have likely have caused more serious consequences in years gone past, the paper reports.

The number of deaths by lightning strike has declined almost tenfold since the mid-Victorian era, the Times explains, largely because of increasing urbanisation, better building design and electrical surge protectors.

However, Friday's storms were not unusual for this time of year, the Met Office reports. On one day in 2012, 110,000 lightning strikes were recorded, the paper says.

There might still be some lightning to come, particularly in northern England and the Sun reports that there is a deluge expected to follow the light show.

The paper says the country could be battered by "golf-ball sized hailstones" and up to 3in of rain in three hours on Saturday.

Muggy conditions could see humidity climb to 75% - the same as Singapore, the paper adds.

I wonder how golfers at the British Open might deal with those hail-stones?

Making people click

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