This story has been updated – see below.
A Boeing-777 jetliner with 295 people on board has crashed in eastern Ukraine near the village of Grabovo, near the border with Russia, according to Reuters. Eyewitnesses in the area claim that it was shot down by a ground-to-air missile, but as of yet this is unconfirmed.
The flight, Malaysia Airlines 17, was five hours into a journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Russian news agency Interfax broke the news, which was later confirmed by other sources, including a Reuters journalist on the ground who has reported “burning wreckage and bodies on the ground”. Despite the claims that the plane was shot down, nobody has come forward to take responsibility.
The Ukrainian government has said that its military did not fire at the plane, while blaming “terrorists” and pro-Russian separatists. The president of Malaysia, Mohd Najib Tun Razak, has said that an investigation has been opened into the incident. Russia president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama were reportedly in the middle of a phone conversation when news of the crash emerged.
Other airlines have reported that their planes will avoid the airspace over eastern Ukraine. This is the second incident involving a Malaysia Airlines flight this year, after the disappearance of Flight MF370 in March.
UPDATE [18/07/2014 – 10:55am]: The airline has clarified that there were 298 passengers on MH17. Three small infants were not included in the original count.
A full passenger list has not been released yet, but it is understood that 173 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians and nine Britons were on the flight, with 15 of the Malaysian nationals making up the flight’s crew. More than a hundred of those on board were heading to Australia for the 20th International Aids in Melbourne, Australia – the global HIV/Aids research and prevention community is in shock and mourning.
The plane crashed in territory currently held by pro-Russian separatists from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, and there are unconfirmed reports that one of its militia groups has recovered a black box recorder from the crash site and intends to hand it over to Moscow for analysis. An official Ukrainian government rescue group has recovered the other black box from another part of the site. The separatists have issued a statement via the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to say they will “close off the site of the catastrophe and allow local authorities to start preparations for the recovery of bodies”, and provide access to and cooperation with national and international investigation teams.
Both the separatists and the Ukrainian government have blamed each other for shooting down MH17. The Ukrainian authorities have released what it claims is intercepted telephone conversations between separatist militia leaders and soldiers discussing shooting down a plane in the area and at the time that MH17 crashed.