JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that U.S. officials have concluded was shot down over Ukraine has many people locally wondering if the United States military will get involved, and if it's safe to fly out of the country.
A real-time flight tracker from Flightaware.com shows no commercial flights in the area where the Boeing 777 carrying 295 people went down, because there is concern about more attacks.
Aviation and military experts who spoke to News4Jax on Thursday said that the airspace has been very dangerous for quite some time now.
"It is every pilot's nightmare, being shot down," said Ed Booth, a local attorney and experienced pilot. "(There's) absolutely no way to prepare for it. There is nothing you can do. You are not in an airplane that is designed to be able to fight back."
Booth, who has been flying for 40 years, said it's a danger that's rare but real when flying over foreign countries.
"This is going to cause the American airlines to rethink the routing," Booth said.
He said modern missile technology is, quite frankly, scary.
"They probably didn't know what hit them," Booth said of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. "This was a military missile that weighs 1,500 pounds and would've hit them traveling at three times the speed of sound."
But Booth said he's confident about the overall safety of air travelers.
"I think now that the threat is understood, that it will be dealt with effectively. In all likelihood, this will not happen again," Booth said. "For the flying public, I don't think there needs to be any concern. This is a very rare and isolated incident. I doubt we will see it again."
But Booth said the tragedy very well could impact travel in other ways. It could mean higher-priced tickets and longer flights, as airlines avoid Ukrainian airspace during the investigation.
"Airlines would prefer to fly a direct route from point A to point B," Booth said. "This would take more fuel, so we'll have some financial implications if they have to go around an area that is not proven to be safe."
Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett recently retired from the U.S. Air Force and said this is an area pilots should have been avoiding already.
"I think an enormous amount of caution has to be put into the decision-making process for the navigational routes, particularly flying over one of these areas here where an enormous amount of weapons are available," Burnett said. "They can be used. People are trained to use them, and with a certain agenda they can do just what you saw today. I would think you would want to avoid those places."
Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor and former ambassador to the United Nations, said it will take a lot of probing to learn the truth of who was behind the attack.
"Were it proven to be the case that Russia supported militia were responsible for downing this plane, the first question is, what did President Putin know and when did he know it?" Soderberg told News4Jax by phone. "How high was this? Was this a rogue operation?"
Burnett said he believes reports saying this appears to be a group of rebel separatists who fired at least one surface to air missile, called a Buk, from the ground. The plane was 33,000 feet above.
"I just don't see the U.S. taking a role in this," Burnett told News4Jax by phone. "Certainly this was a rogue actor. I don't think that the senior authorities would have sanctioned anything like this with the political situation and tensions like they are in that part of the world."
Burnett said he thinks the rebels might have thought Malaysia Airlines 17 was a military plane, because it was flying too high to identify from the ground. He said the rebels might have been able to pick up the flight on radar. Burnett said either way shooting the plane down was a huge mistake.
Booth said the investigation could take as long as two years.
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