KIEV - Social media posts by pro-Russian insurgents - most of them hastily removed - suggest the rebels thought they had shot down a Ukrainian army plane before realising in horror that it was in fact a packed Malaysian airliner.
The Twitter and blog messages were immediately publicised by top Kiev officials in their furious information war with the Kremlin for global opinion and the hearts and minds of ethnic Russians caught in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Confirmation of separatist fighters killing 298 passengers and crew on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur would further complicate Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts to paint their uprising as a fight for self-determination.
Russia's state media avoided any mention of the controversial posts and instead reported militia leaders' later charges that the Ukrainian air force had shot down the Boeing 777 liner instead.
'We downed an An-26'
The rebels first claimed to have downed at least one Ukrainian army plane over the strife-torn eastern rustbelt on late Thursday afternoon.
The VK social networking page of Igor Strelkov - "defence minister" of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic - first announced: "We just downed an An-26 near (the town of) Torez." "And here is a video confirming that a 'bird fell'," said the post.
The website then provides a link identical to that published by Ukrainian media in reports about the Malaysia Airlines jet.
The video shows locals referring to the same coal mine in the region mentioned by Strelkov.
The strongly pro-Kiev Ukrainska Pravda news site later posted an audio recording of what it claimed were the intercepted field communications between rebels and a Russian agent discussing the downing.
"We just downed a plane," a rebel the recording identifies as Bes (Demon) tells an alleged Russian military intelligency officer.
Another recording shows one alleged fighter reporting from the site of the plane's remains that it was "100 per cent certain this is a civilian aircraft." He spits out a Russian expletive when asked whether there were a lot of passengers on board.