A Malaysian airliner is believed to have been shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian militants yesterday (about 10pm Singapore time), killing all 295 people aboard, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said.
Raising the stakes in the East-West showdown between Ukraine and Russia, the official blamed "terrorists" using a ground-to-air missile, and Ukraine's prime minister called the downing of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur a "catastrophe".
A Reuters correspondent saw burning wreckage and bodies on the ground at the village of Grabovo, about 40km from the Russian border in an area where pro-Russian rebels have been active and have claimed to have shot down military aircraft.
The Boeing 777 came down at Torez, near the city of Donetsk, a stronghold of pro-Russian rebels, interior ministry official Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook, adding that it was "shot down with a Buk anti-aircraft system by terrorists" - the term the Kiev government uses for militants seeking to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia.
The dead included 280 passengers and 15 crew.
Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed in a field.
An emergency services rescue worker said that at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene, near the village of Grabovo, and that bodies and debris from the wreckage were spread across an area up to about 15km in diameter.
The New York Times reported that many of the bodies still had their seatbelts on.
Malaysian airline colours
Broken pieces of the wings were marked with blue and red paint - the colours as the emblem of the Malaysian airline.
"I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane, and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick, black smoke," said a witness, who gave his name only as Vladimir.
A separatist rebel from nearby Krasnyi Luch, who gave his name only as Sergei, said: "From my balcony, I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then I heard two explosions."
He denied the rebels had shot the plane down.
"This could happen only if it was a fighter jet or a surface-to-air missile (that shot it down)," he told Reuters.
Malaysia Airlines tweeted late last night that it had lost contact with flight MH17 four hours after it took off from Amsterdam.
"The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace," the airline, still reeling from the disappearance of flight MH370 on March 8, said.
The flag carrier and Malaysia's government are still struggling to provide answers to the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370, which was en route to Beijing in China from the Malaysian capital.
The plane went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board and is now believed to have diverted off its flight path and crashed in the remote Indian Ocean.
No trace of the plane has been found.
A rebel leader said Ukrainian forces shot the airliner down, but a Ukrainian official said their military was not involved.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said: "We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky."
Mr Poroshenko expressed his "deepest and sincerest sympathies for the families and loved ones of those killed" and vowed that "those behind this tragedy will be brought to justice".
Interfax-Ukraine quoted another Ukrainian official as saying the plane disappeared from radar when it was flying at 10,000 metres, a typical cruising altitude for airliners.
Ukraine has accused Russia of taking an active role in the four-month-old conflict in recent days and accused it earlier yesterday of shooting down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet - an accusation that Moscow denied.
The military commander of the rebels, a Russian named Igor Strelkov, had written on his social media page shortly before the report of the crash that his forces had brought down an Antonov An-26 in the same area.
It is a turboprop transport plane of a type used by Ukraine's forces.
France has been telling its airlines to avoid flying over Ukraine, which is a war zone with intense military activities in recent days.
I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane, and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick, black smoke.
From my balcony, I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then I heard two explosions.
-A separatist rebel from nearby Krasnyi Luch, who gave his name only as Sergei
Tragedy by the numbers
Flight MH17 crash
Plane type: Boeing 777
To: Kuala Lumpur
Lost contact: 4 hours after takeoff
Crash site: 40km from Russia-Ukraine border
Wreckage: Scattered over 15km
This article was first published on July 18, 2014.
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