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A picture taken on July 17, shows debris and bodies amongst the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, in rebel-held east Ukraine. (AFP)
BOTH SIDES IN UKRAINE DENY SHOOTING DOWN PLANE 295 perish in Malaysian jet crash

KIEV, July 17, (Agencies): A Malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in rebel-held east Ukraine, regional officials said Thursday, as Ukraine’s president said the jet may have been shot down. Malaysia Airlines said it had “lost contact” with flight MH17, which Ukrainian officials said came down near the town of Shaktarsk, in the Donetsk region. Regional officials said the number of dead was “not yet known” but Russian news agency Itar-Tass cited an unnamed source at Ukraine’s aviation authority as saying there were no survivors.

Eyewitnesses quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti spoke of dozens of bodies at the crash site. Interfax also quoted the deputy prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Purgin, as saying a group of rebels had arrived at scene and found “many dead”. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the jet may have been shot down. “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,” Poroshenko said in a statement.

The Boeing 777 aircraft was expected in the Malaysian capital at around 6:00 am on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday), Malaysia Airlines said. Still reeling from the disappearance of flight MH370, Malaysia announced on Twitter the loss of the airliner. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on his Twitter feed he was “shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed.” “We are launching an immediate investigation.” Ukraine’s 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.”
 
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama had discussed the shocking new development in crisis-torn Ukraine where fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Western-backed government has claimed over 600 lives. US stocks fell sharply following reports the plane had been shot down, while Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “working urgently to find out what’s happened.” The incident comes just months after Malaysia’s Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 on board. The plane diverted from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path and its fate remains a mystery despite a massive aerial and underwater search.
 
The crash came with tensions already soaring after Kiev accused Russia of downing a Ukrainian military plane on a mission over the east of the country. That allegation came a day after the US and EU bolstered sanctions against Russia over its perceived support of the separatist insurgency in the ex-Soviet state. Moscow condemned the punitive measures as “blackmail” and warned of retaliatory actions against Washington. In the first direct claim of a Russian attack on Ukrainian forces, Kiev said a Russian airforce jet shot down a Ukrainian warplane Wednesday evening — before the fresh round of Western sanctions were announced — as it was carrying out its duties.
 
The pilot of the Su-25 plane managed to eject and was rescued by Kiev forces, Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council said.
Russia’s defence ministry — which NATO claims has massed some 12,000 troops along Ukraine’s porous border — dismissed the claim as “absurd”, Russian news agencies reported.
Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed in a field in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, a Reuters reporter said.
An emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene, near the village of Grabovo, and that debris from the wreckage was spread across an area up to about 15 km (nine miles) in diameter.
 
Broken pieces of the wings were marked with blue and red paint - the same colours as the emblem of the Malaysian airline which lost track of a Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was carrying almost 300 people.
“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 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, saying the rebels did not have weapons capable of shooting down a plane at such a height.
All 295 people aboard the plane were killed, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said, blaming “terrorists” using a ground-to-air missile.
Ukraine’s prime minister called the downing of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur a “catastrophe”.
Both the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russia separatists it is fighting in the region denied shooting down any plane.
 Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters (33,000 feet). He said it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet).
 
The Donetsk region government said a plane crashed Thursday near a village called Grabovo, which it said is currently under the control of armed pro-Russian separatists. The region where the flight was lost has seen severe fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels in recent days.
The Malaysia Airlines plane is a Boeing 777-200ER, which was delivered to Malaysia Airlines on July 30, 1997, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Online Fleets, which sells and tracks information about aircraft. It has more than 43,000 hours of flight time and 6,950 takeoffs and landings.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said his country’s armed forces didn’t shoot at any airborne targets.
“We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets,” he said. “We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible.”
 
Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told The Associated Press that he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down but gave no explanation or proof for his statement.
Purgin said he did not know whether rebel forces owned Buk missile launchers, but said even if they did, there had no fighters capable of operating it.
A launcher similar to the Buk missile system was seen by Associated Press journalists earlier Thursday near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels. Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed that it “has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace.”
 
It was the second time that a Malaysia Airlines plane was lost in less than six months. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It has not been found, but the search has been concentrated in the Indian Ocean far west of Australia. Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Twitter there’s no confirmation that Thursday’s plane was shot down. He said he has instructed the country’s military to check. There have been disputes over planes being shot down earlier in the region. If the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down, it would be the fourth commercial airliner to face such a fate.
 
The previous three were:
 
* April 20, 1978: Korean Airlines Flight 902, which diverted from its planned course on a flight from Paris to Seoul and strayed over the Soviet Union. After being fired upon by an interceptor aircraft, the crew made a forced landing at night on the surface of a frozen lake. Two of the 97 passengers were killed by the hostile fire.
 
* Sept 1, 1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down by at least one Soviet air-to-air missile after the
747 had strayed into Soviet airspace. All 240 passengers and 29 crew were killed.
 
* July 3, 1988: Iran Air Flight 655 Aircraft was shot down by a surface to air missile from the American naval vessel USS Vincennes. All 16 crew and 274 passengers were killed.
 
Aviation safety authorities in the United States and Europe warned pilots in April about potential risks flying in or near Ukraine airspace, where a Malaysian passenger airliner went down on Thursday. The US Federal Aviation Administration on April 23 issued a “special notice” regarding Ukrainian airspace to US aviators and air carriers advising them not to fly in airspace around the Crimean city of Simferopol without special approval of the US government.
 
The notice also warned US operators and pilots flying in other parts of Ukraine, including Kiev, Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa, to “exercise extreme caution due to the continuing potential for instability.”
The warning remains in effect until April 23, 2015. International aviation agencies in April also had warned pilots and airlines to avoid the airspace around Simferopol. Agencies including the European Aviation Safety Agency and ICAO, a United Nations civil aviation agency, warned that airlines faced “serious risks” in the area and advised airlines to take alternate routes.

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