London: A Malaysia Airlines plane en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has been shot down in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, claiming the lives of 295 passengers and crew. Malaysia Airlines told Fairfax Media that 27 Australians were on board.
Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Photo: Reuters
The tragedy represents a serious escalation of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and comes only months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was investigating "a number" of Australians abroad the Boeing 777.
“We have grave concerns that a number of Australians may have been on board the flight," DFAT said in a statement. "Officials are urgently working to seek confirmation with relevant authorities."
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, similar to the one that was shot down, takes off from Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: AP
"If you have any concerns for the welfare of Australian family or friends, you should attempt to directly contact them."
DFAT urged family members "unable to contact" next of kin to call its 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on 61 2 6261 3305 from overseas. Within Australia, the number is 1300 555 135.
Bodies and burning wreckage were scattered over the countryside near Donetsk.
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash. Photo: Reuters
There were also reports of 23 US and nine UK passengers. The flight carried a crew of 15.
US intelligence officials confirmed to American media that a surface-to-air missile brought down the airline. However, which side used the missile was less clear, officials said.
Eastern Ukraine has been roiled for months by a violent pro-Russian separatist uprising in which a number of military aircrafthave been downed. But this would be the first commercial airline disaster to result from the hostilities. Despite the turmoil in eastern Ukraine, the commercial airspace over that part of the country is a heavily trafficked route and has remained open.
The site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Photo: Reuters
Flight MH17 operated on a Boeing 777 left Amsterdam at 12.15pm (Amsterdam local time) and was estimated to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6.10 am (Malaysia local time) the next day.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17 a 'terrorist act' and blamed pro-Russian rebels on shooting it down. Photo: Reuters
Online videos showed thick plumes of smoke coming from the crash site.
Ukraine officials and anti-Russian activists claimed it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russian separatists, with one media report blaming Russian-backed Cossack militants. Reports in Russian media pointed to the Ukrainian military.
Freelance journalist Noah Sneider, at the crash site, reported: "Locals say everything exploded in the air, fell in pieces, both bodies and plane itself. People thought they were being bombed."
Where the plane crashed. Photo: Washington Post
After the crash other airlines were rerouting flights around the conflict area in eastern Ukraine, where the country has been battling a violent uprising.
Russia’s Life News reported that Malaysian and Netherlands passports had been found at the crash site.
A New York Times reporter at the site said the plane came to rest in a wheatfield. Many of the passengers’ bodies were still belted in their seats and attached to pieces of the plane, she said.