A Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashed after being hit by a missile believed to have been fired by Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, at about 12am AEST on Friday.
“Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam,” the Malaysia Airlines tweeted.
“The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace.”
There were 298 people on board (280 passengers, plus 3 infants, and 15 crew – initial reports said 295) died when it crashed in Torez, about 25 miles from the Russian border in the region of Donetsk. There were no survivors.
Dutch authorities say there were 27 Australians on board the flight. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this afternoon said the Australian death toll is at least 28 people.
Details of the Australians killed are beginning to emerge. ALP leader Bill Shorten revealed on the ABC that a close friend had lost his aunt.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the attack as an horrific act that “raises the stakes” in the dispute between Russia and the Ukraine, saying the Russia wanted to “stir up trouble” and that the likely attackers were “Russian proxies”. He said Russia was involved in an “outrageous” attempt to bully a neighbour.
Flags will be flown at half-mast across Australia tomorrow. Abbott also announced there would be a National Day of Mourning.
There are reports that this former Russian intelligence officer, Igor Girkin, is the man who shot down flight MH17.
Girkin posted the warning “Do not fly in our sky” on a Russian social media webpage after the incident.
He is known as Strelkov (“shooter”) and he calls himself the Minister of Defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
He is also known for shooting his own men for insubordination.
The rebels have shot down multiple aircraft in the past month but deny involvement in the Malaysia Airlines incident.
Crucially, the separatists in the area reportedly commandeered a set of the BUK system as of last month.
Local residents in Donetsk told Business Insider that they saw a Buk missile system in the area. And Radio 24 (Pадио 24), a Ukrainian radio station, posted this tweet which shows a Buk missile system in Snezhnoye, Ukraine:
— Радіо МАКСИМУМ (@MAXIMUMFM_ua) July 17, 2014
The translation of the Ukrainian text reads: “Buk” terrorists were in Snezhnoye today.
Furthermore, The Interpreter reports the Ukrainian journalist Roman Bochkala and an AP journalist have seen separatists with the BUK system.
Nonetheless, Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed the Ukraine for the tragedy and denied involvement with the separatists. However, the plane came down in rebel-held territory, Russia has already grabbed the black box and for now it’s uncertain whether Putin will hand over the black box to international investigators.
An ‘unspeakable crime’
Abbott and senior ministers will meet as the National Security Committee of Cabinet to review the incident this morning.
In Parliament, the Senate paused in silence for those who died. Abbott told the Parliament that the loss of the plane looked “less like an accident than a crime”. He added: “If so, the perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
The Russian ambassador to Canberra was summoned by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was seeking assurances that the Russian authorities would co-operate fully with the investigation.
Among those killed was the former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange.
The Society has expressed its condolences at the loss. World Health Organisation officials were also on board.
AIDS Conference director Owen Ryan held a brief press conference in Melbourne this morning saying “The international AIDS movement has lost a number of friends and colleagues.” He described Joep Lange as a “giant” of the movement.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said “no stone can be left unturned” in investigating what happened.
“Emergency operations centres have been established. In the last few hours, Malaysian officials have been in constant contact with their counterparts in Ukraine and elsewhere. And I will be speaking to a number of world leaders over the coming hours,” he said, saying he’d had several conversations with the Netherlands PM, President Obama. and President of Ukraine.
“He has pledged that there will be a full, thorough and independent investigation, and Malaysian officials will be invited to take part,” Razak said.
“The Ukrainian president also confirmed that his government will negotiate with rebels in the east of the country, in order to establish a humanitarian corridor to the crash site.”
“This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia. The flight’s passengers and crew came from many different countries. But today, regardless of nationality, we are all united in grief.”
Malaysia Airlines said it had diverted flights away from the area, but defended the route, saying it had been declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
The airline said it was notifying next of kin before releasing the passenger manifest.
We are in the process of notifying #MH17 next-of-kin. Once all have been notified, the passenger's manifest will be released.
— Malaysia Airlines (@MAS) July 18, 2014
“Locals say everything exploded in the air, fell in pieces, both bodies and plane itself,” Journalist Noah Sneider tweeted from the area. “[People] thought they were being bombed.”
The region of Donetsk is a stronghold of pro-Russian rebels who are fighting the Ukrainian army. The separatists denied responsibility (via The Interpreter), but they did claim to shoot down a “Ukrainian transport plane” in the same area earlier today.
And Girkin, who is linked to Russian intelligence, claimed that rebels had shot down the “transport plane” in Torez — the same town that the Malaysia Airlines plane went down.
“In the region of Torez AN-26 plane has been shot,” he wrote on Russia’s version of Facebook. “We have warned them – not to fly ‘in our sky.'”
Interfax Ukraine reports plane was shot down using ‘Buk’ missile system. Medium range surface-to-air missile system pic.twitter.com/CSQCYKWMem
— Olaf Koens (@obk) July 17, 2014
On July 8, the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine closed the airspace to civilian aircraft after a military transport plane, which was flying at an altitude of over 20,000 feet, was shot down by rebels.
The Interpreter reports that the Ukrainian military has been claiming that separatists have advanced missiles for a week after the transport plane went down.
President Barack Obama is “aware” of reports of the plane crash, a White House official told Business Insider, and he has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer tells Business Insider that the crisis in Ukraine will now escalate considerably.
Also earlier today, Ukraine claimed that a Russian jet shot down a Ukraine SU-25 fighter plane. For months, Ukrainian and U.S. officials have warned against civilian aircrafts flying over Ukrainian territory, especially near eastern Ukraine and the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
A Reuters correspondent on the scene sees burning wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane and bodies strewn on the ground.
Following are images from the scene — warning: GRAPHIC.
Here’s a video reportedly showing the initial moments of the crash:
Ukrainian activists published a video of the burning wreckage.
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