Locals in the rural area trying to help were overwhelmed, he said. Firemen who rushed to put out the flames found they had a hose with holes in it, spraying water everywhere, he said.

"One man said to me, 'Nothing's happened in this village for 30 years, and now this,'" Sneider said.

As details emerge, accusations fly

Details -- and accusations -- quickly poured in about Thursday's crash, which came the same week that Ukrainian officials said a Russian fighter shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane while the aircraft was in Ukrainian airspace.

Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said in a Facebook post that "terrorists" fired on the plane operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the crash as a "terrorist action."

"We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, according to his website.

CNN's Richard Quest, an aviation expert, said that it would be "extremely unusual" for an airliner at nearly 33,000 feet to be shot down.

From the ground, one could simply look up and tell whether a plane was a commercial aircraft, he said. "So something is absolutely appalling that's gone on here."

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that Ukraine's president had accepted an offer of U.S. experts to help investigate the crash.

"They will be on their way rapidly to see if we can get to the bottom of this," he said.

Biden said the plane was apparently shot down, adding "not an accident, blown out of the sky."

Who was on the plane?

The 15 crew members on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all Malaysian nationals, officials said.

Malaysia Airlines also gave a breakdown of the known nationalities of the 283 passengers: 154 were Dutch, 27 were Australians, 28 were Malaysians, 12 were Indonesian, nine were from the United Kingdom, four were from Germany; four were from Belgium, three were from the Philippines and one was Canadian. Authorities were still trying to determine the nationalities of the other passengers.

The International AIDS Society said in a statement that "a number of colleagues and friends" were on the plane, on the way to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

"At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy," the statement said.

Russia-Ukraine dispute

The route the Malaysian plane was on, between Kuala Lumpur and the Netherlands, is a common one, CNN aviation safety consultant Mary Schiavo said Thursday. She said that the plane was flying over a troubled area and that close communication with air traffic controllers would be a key necessity.

Torez is in a rebel-held area.