MH17 crash: Air India pilots tried to contact plane

NEW DELHI - An Air India plane flying less than 25km from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 when it was downed had tried to make contact with the pilots, a newspaper reported.

The Times of India said Ukrainian air traffic controllers had asked the Air India pilots to try and establish contact with the Malaysia Airlines jet, which had stopped responding to its calls.

The Air India plane, which was flying from Delhi to Birmingham and was less than 25km from MH17, received no response, according to the paper.

"The AI Dreamliner was less than 25km from the Malaysian aircraft when the latter was hit by a missile," an unidentified airline source told the newspaper.

"When the pilots learned of the cause of the crash later, they were stunned."

According to the newspaper, it is standard practice for air traffic controllers to ask pilots of aircraft in the vicinity to get in touch with pilots who have stopped responding.

The newspaper also said that minutes before the crash, the Air India pilots heard air traffic controllers give the Malaysian plane a "direct routing".

This allows a plane to fly straight rather than tracking from one navigation point to another, and saves time and fuel.

An Air India spokesman declined to comment on the report.

The report comes despite a denial by India's civil aviation ministry last week that the Air India plane was close to the Malaysian jet, which was shot out of the sky over Ukraine's troubled eastern region.

Singapore Airlines, which had a plane in the vicinity at the time of the tragedy had also claimed on Facebook that it did not fly over Ukrainian airspace, and was forced to apologise after being slammed by netizens.

A spokesman from the airlines said in a statement that it acknowledged that some may have found the statements insensitive.

Reports said the airline was actively flying over the Ukrainian airspace prior to the MH17 incident. However, all airlines have steered clear of the area since the incident.

Ukraine has accused Moscow of helping pro-Russian rebels to shoot down the Malaysian plane.