Pilots of the downed Malaysia Airlines increased their altitude to 33,000 feet when they entered Ukrainian airspace and had asked to go even higher but were told not to, according to the airline.
Malaysia Airlines said in a statement on Friday that Flight 17 pilots requested to fly at 35,000 feet, considered close to "optimum" throughout Ukrainian airspace, and its flight plan was approved by Eurocontrol.
But Ukrainian air traffic control on the ground told the plane to fly at 33,000 feet, Malaysian Airlines said. Data from the website Flight Aware show Flight 17 was flying at 31,000 feet over Germany before it ascended to 33,000 feet over Ukraine.
The Boeing 777 carrying 295 people was shot down Thursday in a volatile area of Ukraine just west of the Russian border where separatists have been battling Ukraine’s security forces. There have been no reports of survivors. Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council Friday that the plane was probably downed by a surface-to-air-missile.
Some airlines, including Malaysia Air, have continued to fly over Ukraine, despite the conflict on the ground. Malaysia Airlines defended its choice to fly over Ukraine, saying it’s "commonly used for Europe to Asia flights."
The airliner said its flight plan was also approved by Eurocontrol, "who are solely responsible for determining civil aircraft flight paths over European airspace."
"A flight from a different carrier was on the same route at the time of the MH17 incident, as were a number of other flights from other carriers in the days and weeks before," the statement said.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit pieced together flight paths from several different international airlines over Europe over the past several weeks. Data from the Flight Aware showed many airlines avoided the country.
In the past, both the Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Organization have warned pilots of “the possible existence of serious risk to the safety of international civil flights.” But those warnings were specific only to the Crimea region of Ukraine.
Last week, Ukrainian authorities warned pilots not to fly between 26,000 and 32,000 feet above eastern Ukraine.