As the global blame game over a downed Malaysia Airlines flight escalated – with the United States leading the finger-pointing – stunning new reports revealed the doomed jet was traveling well north of its intended route when it was shot out of the sky.

“The Boeing 777 went farther north than typical,” CBS News reported. “It’s unclear why.”

In the previous two weeks alone, pilots on the same flight had successfully completed fourteen trips over Ukrainian airspace – each time passing well south of the contentious Donetsk region – which is where Flight 17 was shot down this week, killing all 298 people on board.  Each of the previous flight paths took the Malaysian Airlines’ jets through western or central Ukraine – exiting the country’s airspace over the Sea of Azov.

Obviously that didn’t happen in the case of Flight 17 … which flew directly into an area all of the previous flights (from both Malaysia Airlines and other carriers) took pains to avoid.

Courtesy of Vagelis Karmiros, here’s a look at the flight paths of ten of those previous fourteen trips … and the doomed airliner (labeled by date).

(Click to enlarge)

flight 17

(Pic: Vagelis Karmiros)

Wow …

Why does this matter?  Easy: The airspace over Donetsk was restricted – meaning no commercial aircraft were supposed to be flying there.

This plane was smack dab in the middle of someplace it had no business being , in other words.

“Perhaps before coming to ‘certain’ conclusion about the involvement of this rebel or that, the key questions one should ask before casting blame, is why did the pilot divert from his usual flight plan, why did he fly above restricted airspace, and just what, if any instructions, did Kiev air control give the pilot in the minutes before the tragic explosion?” the website Zero Hedge  mused.

We agree …

Clearly the United States government is tripping over itself in an effort to lay the blame for this tragedy exclusively at the feet of Russian president Vladimir Putin – and perhaps that’s where it belongs (although we’re highly skeptical of that conclusion).

Before we start trying to determine who shot this plane down, though, the critical question that must be answered is why was it diverted directly into harm’s way?