LUHANSK, Ukraine — Separatists in Ukraine used a shoulder-fired missile to shoot down a large Ukrainian military transport jet as it was trying to land at an airport in this eastern city Saturday, killing all 49 people on board, the military said.
The attack was the deadliest episode for the Ukrainian military since the unrest began in the country’s east.
“On approach to the Luhansk airport a Ukrainian armed forces military transport Il-76 airplane was shot down with an antiaircraft rocket system,” the military wing of the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement. “In addition to the nine crew members, 40 paratroopers were on board. All of them died.”
The statement said the office had opened an investigation into what it called a terrorist act. Separatists from the self-declared People’s Republic of Luhansk confirmed that they had shot down the jet and said that all military airplanes in the area, which is near the border with Russia, were targets.
A surveillance video that captured the plane’s destruction showed a streak of light rising from the ground, then an explosion near the airport where the plane was making its final approach to Luhansk.
The plane crashed into a barley field about 12 miles from the airport. Parts of the four-engine jet plane were mangled beyond recognition, other items were oddly intact, and all lay scattered about, wholly unguarded by either side.
Wind blew over the site, fluttering torn pages from a flight manual and patches of torn, bloody clothing.
The plane had been packed with ammunition and as it came down or when it hit, some exploded, leaving empty shells amid the rubble, along with intact rounds and unexploded grenades.
By late afternoon, scavengers from a nearby village were walking gingerly through the site.
“Brother kills brother. When will this end?” said one man, who offered only his first name, Taras. “I heard the plane when it exploded last night. How many mothers won’t see their sons again? And for what?”
Ukraine’s new president, Petro O. Poroshenko, called an emergency session of the country’s security council and declared Sunday a day of mourning.
In Washington, a White House spokeswoman, Laura Lucas Magnuson, said US officials “condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatists groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks, which is a significant escalation.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France called President Vladimir Putin of Russia to convey what a German government spokesman called “dismay” over the downing of the plane.
An online post by a group called Information Resistance, which often conveys news from Ukraine’s armed forces in more detail than official statements do, said Ukrainian soldiers at the scene had found empty firing tubes for two shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles and a third missile that failed to fire.
The post said the missiles were Iglas, or “needles,” Russian-made antiaircraft rockets of a type that separatists have shown to journalists in recent weeks.
Pro-Russian groups say they obtained them from Ukrainian military bases.
The jet was making its approach into a contested area. The Ukrainian army controls the airport, but separatists hold Luhansk, which is important for patrolling the border with Russia.
The State Department said Friday that Russia had sent tanks and other heavy weapons to separatists across that border, supporting accusations made by Ukraine.
A convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne, State Department officials said.
The Ukrainian army reported Friday that it had destroyed two of the tanks and several other vehicles in the convoy.
Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Saturday to complain about Russia’s arms shipments to separatists and to express concern about the downing of the transport plane, the State Department said.
Kerry also called Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, and assured him that the United States and its European allies were prepared “to raise the costs for Russia if it does not end the flow of weapons across the border and break with separatists,” the State Department official said, a reference to the additional sanctions President Obama has said would be imposed if Russia keeps up its support to the Ukrainian separatists.
Buttressing the State Department’s assertions about Russian arms shipments, NATO’s military command on Saturday released photographs of the three Russian tanks the State Department said were sent from southwest Russia to Ukraine.
In the photographs, the tanks do not have the typical camouflage paint of T-64 tanks that belong to the Ukrainian military and have been stripped of any markings, much like the military vehicles Russia sent to Crimea.