Update: 295 passengers perish as Malaysia plane crashes in Ukraine

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A Malaysian airliner reportedly with 295 people on board has crashed in Ukraine near the Russian border, on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines said it had lost contact with Flight MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukraine, it said in a tweet.

An aviation source in Moscow told Reuters the plane had been found burning on the ground in east Ukraine.

Dozens of bodies are scattered around what is believed to be the wreckage of the jet near the village of Grabovo, said to be under rebel control.

Flight MH17 had been due to enter Russian airspace when contact was lost.

Both the Ukrainian government and rebels have denied shooting it down in the region close to the Russian border.

Pro-Russian separatists are believed to have shot down two Ukrainian military planes over the region in recent days.

There is no official closure of Ukraine airspace but Germany’s Lufthansa has decided to divert four flights currently in the air which would overfly east Ukraine. “The safety of our passengers is our top priority,” it said.

Ukraine has accused Russia’s military of supplying advanced missiles to the rebels.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak reportedly said he was launching an immediate inquiry into the crash.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to his US counterpart, Barack Obama, by phone about the crash, the Kremlin said in a statement (in Russian).

“The Russian leader informed the US president about an air-traffic controllers’ report that came just before their phone conversation that a Malaysian plane crashed in Ukraine,” the statement said.

‘Then a bang’
The plane fell between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk.

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the plane had been hit by a missile at an altitude of 10,000m (32,000ft). The claim could not be verified independently.

At least 100 bodies have been found so far at the scene, an emergencies worker told Reuters news agency at the scene, with wreckage spread across an area of up to about 15km (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, the agency said.

“I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots,” a witness called Vladimir told Reuters.

“Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke.”

A separatist rebel from nearby Krasnyi Luch who gave his name as Sergei said: “From my balcony I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then heard two explosions.”

Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian officials blamed the Russian air force for shooting down one of its ground attack jets on Wednesday.

Confirming the crash, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said: “This is a third such tragic event in recent days, when Ukrainian military An-26 and Su-25 aircraft have been shot down from Russian territory.

“The Ukrainian armed forces did not attempt to shoot down targets in the air.”

Separatist leader Alexander Borodai accused the government of downing the airliner.

“Apparently, it’s a passenger airliner indeed, truly shot down by the Ukrainian air force,” he told Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24 TV broadcaster.

The UK Foreign Office said it was aware of the reports of the crash and was “urgently working to establish what has happened”.

Sir Tony Brenton, a former UK ambassador to Russia, told BBC News it would not be a huge surprise if suspicion initially fell on the rebels.

“That would be very damaging both for them and for their Russian supporters,” he said.

“The Russians have undoubtedly been supplying them with weapons, almost certainly with anti-aircraft weapons, so Russia would very likely be implicated and that would raise the volume of international criticism of Russia.”

This is also the second plane crash involving a Malaysian airliner this year, following the disappearance of Flight MH370 to Beijing in March.

Separatist rebels have been fighting government forces in the region.

A number of Ukrainian military planes have been shot down by missiles in recent weeks. Ukraine has accused Russia’s military of supplying advanced missiles to the rebels.

Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian officials blamed the Russian air force for shooting down one of its ground attack jets on Wednesday.

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the plane had been hit by a missile at an altitude of 10,000m (33,000ft). The claim could not be verified independently.

The source which spoke to Reuters about burning wreckage on the ground said the plane had failed to enter Russian airspace.

The UK Foreign Office said it was aware of the reports of the crash and was “urgently working to establish what has happened”.

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