A Malaysian passenger airliner with 298 people on board has reportedly crashed in eastern Ukraine.
The Interfax news agency quoting an aviation industry source said the Boeing-777 plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over the Donetsk region, which has been the theatre of recent fighting between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatist rebels. The zone where the plane crashed is said to be controlled by rebels.
The agency says the airliner was shot down at an altitude of 10,000 metres. This information has not been confirmed.
Interfax quotes a Ukrainian interior ministry official as saying that the passenger jet was shot down by a Buk ground-to-air missile.
The airline has confirmed that all 283 passengers and 15 crew had been killed.
A Russian aviation industry source told Reuters that the airliner did not enter Russian airspace when it was expected, but crashed in eastern Ukraine.
Reuters said one of its correspondents on the scene had seen burning wreckage of the plane and bodies on the ground near the village of Grabovo. The witness said that wreckage was scattered across an area up to about 15 kilometres in diameter.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ordered an investigation into the “airplane catastrophe” in eastern Ukraine, his spokeswoman Olga Lappo said.
Denouncing a “terrorist act”, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement that he would initiate an international commission to investigate the crash. He added that Ukrainian armed forces had not carried out any action to destroy targets in the air. He offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
Despite Kyiv’s denial, separatist leader Aleksander Borodai blamed the downing of a Malaysian passenger airliner in eastern Ukraine on the country’s government forces.
“Apparently, it’s a passenger airliner indeed, truly shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force,” Borodai told Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24 TV broadcaster.
According to the Interfax agency, separatists from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” claimed on social media to have shot down a Ukrainian military AN-26 transport plane, at around the same time and close to the same area that the Malaysian airliner came down.
The Kremlin said in a statement that President Putin, in a phone conversation with his US counterpart Barack Obama, had mentioned the first reports of a crash involving a Malaysian plane.
Other airlines including Air France, Lufthansa and Virgin have said their planes will be re-routed to avoid flying over eastern Ukraine with immediate effect. The Russian airline Aeroflot said it would no longer fly over Ukrainian territory.
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was returning to the Netherlands from Brussels to deal with the aftermath of the crash in Ukraine.
The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said he is shocked by reports of the Malaysia Airlines crash and is launching an immediate investigation.
Another Ukrainian interior ministry official has been quoted as saying that “more than 300” people had been killed, including 23 American citizens. This has not been confirmed by US authorities.
Russia’s Ria news agency has reported that Russian emergency services have asked Kyiv for permission to help with rescue work at the crash site.
If the crash and deaths are confirmed it will be the second major disaster for Malaysia Airlines this year. In March Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared with 239 people on board and the wreckage has not been found.