Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Malaysian PM launches investigation after expressing shock over 'shot down' plane

Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak says he was shocked by what had happened after plane carrying 295 people came down in rebel-held Donetsk region

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The Independent Online

Malaysian authorities have launched an investigation into what downed a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet carrying almost 300 people in eastern, rebel-held Ukraine amid claim and counter-claim it had shot down by missiles. One unconfirmed report said nine of the passengers were believed to be British citizens.

In the second major tragedy for the Malaysian carrier this year, the airline confirmed it had lost contact with Flight MH17 as it was making its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. A total of 295 passengers and crew were on board the Boeing 777.

Amid confusion over what had happened to the plane, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak, said on social media he was shocked by what had happened while his transport minister said Malaysia had not yet confirmed the plane had been shot down. Mr Najib added: “We are launching an immediate investigation.”

Questions were also asked as to why, given that several Ukrainian aircraft had been attacked in the areas in recent days, the passenger plane was still passing over the rebel-held part of Ukraine.

Images from the scene of the downed jet showed piles of smoking debris and scores of bodies strewn over a large area, reportedly stretching up to ten miles from the site of the impact. Some were still strapped into their seats. The reports said both Dutch and Malaysian passports had been found amid the wreckage.


One report said 23 of the dead were US citizens though the US State Department said it could not confirm that. A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London said they were monitoring reports. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “shocked and saddened”.

“I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots,” one witness, who gave his name only as Vladimir, told the Reuters news agency. “Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke.”

Ukraine has suggested the plane had been shot down by rebel forces and said it was the third aircraft to have been downed this week. Meanwhile, the leader of a pro-Russian rebel faction said his men did not have the capability to bring down such a plane and in turn accused the Ukrainians of being behind the incident, an allegation that was denied.

Video: Tragedy has caused an international outcry

As Lufthansa became the first of a number of airlines including Air France, British Airways and Turkish Airlines to announce they were diverting all flight from the areas, it emerged the American Federal Aviation Administration had warned US flights in April to avoid eastern Ukraine.

It is not immediately clear how the downing of the plane will impact the internal conflict in Ukraine or the broader strategic stand-off involving Russia and the West. There will be global outrage that a passenger plane could have been a victim of the crisis and there will be pressure put on Russian leader Vladimir Putin to rein in rebel forces.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Ukraine since largely pro-Western protests ended with the ousting of the Moscow-backed president in Kiev in February. One month later, Russia seized control of Crimea.

If the report by the Interfax news agency is correct and it is confirmed that 23 Americans are among he dead there will be pressure on the White House to respond.

The issue of the downed plane was discussed in a telephone call between Mr Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama. Mr Obama reportedly told Mr Putin the West was prepared to enforce further sanctions if Moscow did not alter course in Ukraine.

Earlier in the week, US officials in Washington had cited evidence of the attacks on Ukrainian aircraft as further evidence of Russian involvement in Ukraine’s conflict. The officials said sophisticated weapons would have been required to attacks such aircraft.

A statement issued by the office of the Russian president said Mr Putin had expressed his condolences to the Malaysian Premier.

Reports said the plane reportedly came down about 25 miles from the city of Donetsk, one of the main strongholds of pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.

Smoke rises up at a crash site near the village of Grabovo

According to reporters, the Facebook page of Ukraine’s interior ministry official, Anton Gerashchenko, claimed the plane had been brought down by a Buk anti-aircraft system by rebels. Last month it was reported that rebels had said they had captured such a system, capable of bringing down aircraft flying at altitude.

This week it was reported two Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down in the east, after being targeted by a missiles.

“This is the third event in the last few days following An-26 and SU-25 planes being brought down,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to Interfax. “We do not exclude that this plane was also shot down and we stress that the armed forces of Ukraine did not carry out any action to destroy targets in the air.”

The jet had reportedly left Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 12.14pm local time on Thursday, 14 minutes after its scheduled take-off time. It was due to land in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport at 6.10am local time. It was reportedly flying at more than 33,000ft.

The wreckages of the Malaysian airliner (Getty Images)

In a statement, Boeing, which manufactured the aircraft, said: “We are aware of the reports on MH17. We’re gathering more information. Our thoughts and prayers are with those on board MH17, as well as their families and loved ones. We stand ready to provide assistance.”

If the jet was brought down by missiles, presumably in act of accidental firing, it would not be the first time a passenger plane had suffered such a fate.

In 1988, an Iran Air flight from Tehran to Dubai was shot down by the US warship USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. In 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 from New York to Seoul via Anchorage was shot down by a Soviet military jet near Sakhalin Island in the East Sea, with the deaths of 269 people.

Four months ago, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A search for the plane, with its 239 passengers and crew, has focussed largely on the souther Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia. Till now, no physical trace of the plane has been found.