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Victoriano A. Ramos

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 295 people aboard was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday by a surface-to-air missile, American officials have confirmed. The plane was traveling at about 30,000 feet, according to tracking information from a military spy satellite. The satellite was unable to detect where exactly the missile was fired.

Military and intelligence analysts are using mathematical formulas, high-speed computers and other sensors to try to pin down the missile’s point of origin. Other analysts will work with the Ukrainian authorities to recover and analyze pieces of the missile and the aircraft to help determine what kind of missile was fired, the officials said.

The plane — Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — crashed and burned in an eastern Ukraine wheat field near the Russian border, in an area roiled by fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. There were no known survivors. Ukrainian officials immediately called the crash an act of terrorism.

The furiously unfolding investigation centered on Ukrainian separatists or Russian troops as the missile operators. The Ukrainian authorities said they had intercepted communications that indicated separatist involvement. But the reason for the attack — whether it was a deliberate strike or a tragic accident — was unknown.

“What we still don’t know is what were they thinking,” one official said.

“This is truly a grave situation,” said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the United States, speaking in Detroit. “It’s important we get to the bottom of this sooner than later because of the possible repercussions that can flow beyond from this, beyond the tragic loss of life.”

Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, called for an immediate investigation and asked the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, to send experts to assist. “I would like to note that we are calling this not an incident, not a catastrophe, but a terrorist act,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, said, “If it transpires that the plane was, indeed, shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.”