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By Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board are sending a team of investigators to Ukraine to help investigate the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, officials said Friday.

The plane is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russia forces, according to a preliminary assessment by U.S. intelligence officials.

Investigators will be looking to determine the exact type of missile that was used and whether the assailants intended to down a passenger jetliner or believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Exactly when the U.S. team, which is being led by the FBI and includes one aviation safety expert from the NTSB, will arrive in the Ukraine will depend on how events unfold on the ground, said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the NTSB.

“The NTSB is sending one investigator to Ukraine,” Holloway said in an email message.

“The timing of this deployment is still being determined,” Holloway said. “Our response will continue to be guided by the events, as they unfold,” he said.

The Ukrainian government and the U.S. team are likely to have difficulty getting to the crash site because the wreckage is in a contested part of eastern Ukraine currently held by pro-Russia separatists.

All 298 passengers on board died when the plane crashed near the Ukrainian town of Donetsk. The jetliner was flying over eastern Ukraine on a route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

President Barack Obama said the crash, which took the lives of passengers from many different countries, including at least one American, is a “global tragedy.”

“There has to be a credible international investigation into what happened,” Obama said.

Obama said the plane was shot down from an area controlled by separatists. He called on Russia, pro-Russia separatists, and Ukraine to adhere to an immediate cease fire and said that evidence from the crash “must not be tampered with.”

Obama said that personnel from the FBI and the NTSB are “on their way” to help in the investigation into what caused the crash.

“The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine and we are going to make sure the truth gets out,” Obama said.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

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