Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashes in east Ukraine

Ukrainian separatists deny any involvement after plane said to be carrying 295 people comes down near Russian border

A passenger jet has crashed in eastern Ukraine in an area where separatist rebels have been engaging Ukrainian military forces in recent weeks.

Ukrainian official Anton Gerashchenko said 280 passengers and 15 crew were on board.

Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of the plane, near the village of Grabovo, about 25 miles from the Russian border, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

Local emergency workers said at least 100 bodies had been found so far, and wreckage was scattered across an area nine miles in diameter.

Malaysia Airlines said via its Twitter feed: “Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow.”

A source in the Russian aviation industry told Reuters that the plane did not enter Russian airspace when expected and had crashed in eastern Ukraine.

Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, wrote on his Facebook page that the plane had crashed in Ukrainian territory after being hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher. Associated Press said one of its journalists had seen a similar launcher near the town of Snizhne earlier on Thursday.

Leaders of the self-declared Donetsk people’s republic denied any involvement, according the Interfax news agency. A member of the republic’s security council said the rebels only have weapons able to shoot down a plane at 3,000 metres and blamed Ukrainian military forces for the attack.

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko called for the creation of a commission to investigate the accident. “This is the third tragic incident in recent days after Ukrainian military An-26 and Su-25 jets were shot down from Russian territory. We don’t rule out that this plane was also shot down, and we stress that the Ukrainian military didn’t take any actions to destroy targets in the air,” he said.

Smoke reportedly from Malaysian Airlines plane crash in Ukraine

Local TV images purporting to show Malaysia passenger airliner MH17 crashing in Ukraine near the Russian border. Photograph: Universal News And Sport (Europe)

In recent days the Ukrainian air force has lost planes in the area after they have been shot down by rebels. Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine accused Russia of downing one of its fighter jets inside Ukrainian territory.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, rejected the allegation, telling reporters: “We didn’t do it.”

Sources among the self-declared Donetsk people’s republic also denied any link to the downing of the plane and suggested that Ukrainian forces were involved, according to comments carried by Russian news agencies.

The report of the crash comes four months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, two-thirds of them Chinese citizens. It has yet to be found despite a massive international search, which is still ongoing, but Malaysia Airlines has said it believes everyone on board died when the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

The Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said via Twitter: “I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation.”

The country’s defence minister tweeted that he was “monitoring closely” claims that MH17 had crashed, saying: “No comfirmation [sic] it was shot down! Our military have been instructed 2 get on it!”

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in Ukraine

Emergency workers at the crash site. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Barack Obama, who has just landed in Delaware, has been briefed about the airliner crash. His spokesman, Josh Earnest, told reporters on board Air Force One that the president had instructed his staff to keep him updated and make contact with senior Ukrainian officials.

The cause of MH370’s disappearance remains a mystery, with investigators suggesting the plane was deliberately diverted from its course, but there was no way of knowing whether the pilots were responding to an emergency or whether there was malicious intent.

That aircraft was a Boeing-777 – the same kind of plane as flight MH17.

Source: The Guardian