A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 298 passengers, including 28 Australians, was shot down near Ukraine’s Russian border overnight.
Flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was carrying some of the world’s leading AIDS experts to a conference in Melbourne.
Both Ukraine Government and pro-Russian rebels have denied responsibility, but the aircraft was flying over pro-Russian territory in eastern Ukraine where surface-to-air missile batteries apparently shipped in from Moscow have been seen in the past week.
News of the incident came first from social media where separatists posted reports that a plane had been shot down, including images of wreckage and aircraft panels carrying the Malaysia Airline emblem. Soon after, Malaysia Airlines tweeted that it had lost contact with MH17. Some of the early social media posts from rebels have since been removed, but were recorded and redistributed by the Kiev’s security Service of Ukraine.
Ukraine blamed pro-Russian separatists, who are armed by Russia and control the eastern zone of Ukraine, and released a video recording on YouTube, purportedly of separatists gloating about shooting down another plane. Separatist leaders however denied involvement and blamed Ukrainian government forces. They asserted that the rebel forces did not possess weapons able to shoot down an airliner.
Moscow has denied any involvement.
The aircraft came down in farmland about 40 kilometres from the Russian border. Local TV showed footage of blackened fields and scattered wreckage. People on the scene said bodies, some still strapped into the remnants of airline seats, were scattered across the fields.
The area has seen intense conflict between government forces and rebels over the past four months. The rebels had shot down several Ukraine military aircraft in recent weeks, but some international airlines continued to overfly Ukrainian airspace at an altitude considered safe from attack. Qantas, Korea Air Lines and Asiana Airlines stopped overflying Ukraine some months ago in recognition of the uncertainty involved as tensions increased between Kiev and the pro-Moscow rebels.
Reports from the rebel side said MH17’s black box flight recorders had been recovered and would be sent to Moscow for analysis. Ukrainian officials believe a thorough investigation will be impossible because the area is inside rebel territory and the crash site is under their control.
Officials at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport confirmed that passengers included 154 Dutch citizens, 28 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six British, four German, four Belgian, three Filipinos, and one Canadian. Three of the victims were infants in arms, accounting for earlier reports that 295 people died. The nationalities of many passengers remains unclear. – Compiled by The Newsroom team from agency and internet sources