A Malaysia Airlines plane on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard.
Officials said the aircraft was “blown out of the sky”, probably by a ground-launched missile, amid an ongoing conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels.
Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile.
Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight, Reuters said.
Reporters saw burning and charred wreckage bearing the red and blue Malaysia insignia and dozens of bodies strewn in fields near the village of Hrabove, 40 kilometers from the Russian border near the rebel-held regional capital of Donetsk.
More than half of the dead, 154 people, were Dutch. Another 27 were Australian and 23 Malaysian, according to Reuters.
The Ukrainian government, condemning an act of “terrorism”, released recordings it said were of Russian intelligence officers discussing the shooting down of a civilian airliner by rebels who may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military plane.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pinned the blame on Kiev for renewing its offensive against the rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called it a “tragedy” but did not say who brought the Boeing down.
A US official said a surface-to-air missile was probably responsible, though its origin was unclear.
Malaysia Airlines said air traffic controllers lost contact with flight MH-17 in the afternoon as it flew over eastern Ukraine towards the Russian border, bound for Asia with 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard.
Flight tracking data indicated it was at its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet when it disappeared.
That would be beyond the range of smaller rockets used by the rebels to bring down helicopters and other low-flying Ukrainian military aircraft – but not of the SA-11 system which a Ukrainian official accused Russia of supplying to the rebels, Reuters noted.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak demanded swift justice for those responsible and said the crash site must not be interfered with before international experts had access.
The loss of MH-17 is the second disaster for Malaysia Airlines this year, following the mysterious loss of flight MH-370, which disappeared in March with 239 passengers and crew on board as it was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
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