Kiev, Ukraine: A Ukrainian official said a passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down on Thursday over a town in the east of the country, and Malaysian Airlines tweeted that it lost contact with one of its flights over Ukrainian airspace.
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) when it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher. A similar launcher was seen by Associated Press journalists near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne earlier Thursday. The Buk missile system can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet).
Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed that it “has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow.”
The Ukrainian interior ministry adviser reportedly said 280 passengers, 15 crew were dead in the crash.
The Boeing passenger liner came down close to town of Shaktarsk in the rebellion-wracked region of Donetsk after disappearing from the radar and teams from the emergency services were trying to reach the scene, an unnamed security source told Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
The region has seen severe fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels Donetsk People’s Republic in recent days.
On Wednesday evening, a Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said Thursday, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet hit by the air-to-air missile was forced to bail after his jet was shot down.
Pro-Russia rebels Donetsk People’s Republic and their leader Igor Girkin , meanwhile, claimed responsibility for strikes on Wednesday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely.
Through his VK.com account, Russia’s version of Facebook, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin — who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov — boasted about shooting down a plane.
“We did warn you — do not fly in our sky,” he wrote.
Thinking it was a Ukrainian transport plane, Strelkov added that “a plane has just been downed somewhere around Torez, it lays there behind the ‘Progress’ mine,” referring to the mining town of some 80,000 people.
“And here is the video proving another ‘bird’ falling down,” he continued. “The bird went down behind a slagheap, not in a residential district. So no peaceful people were injured,” Strelkov wrote, adding that there is also information about a Ukrainian military plane shot down.
However, Strelkov deleted the post when he found out it was actually a commercial jetliner carrying 295 innocent people — not a military aircraft.
Moscow denies Western charges that is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest in its neighbor. The Russian Defense Ministry couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday about the Ukrainian jet and Russia’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Earlier this week, Ukraine said a military transport plane was shot down Monday by a missile fired from Russian territory.
The rebels are known to possess portable anti-aircraft rocket launchers, but Ukrainian officials say that kind of weapon would have been unable to reach Monday’s plane at the altitude at which it was flying Monday. Aviation experts, however, have questioned whether the stricken transport plane was flying at the altitude Ukrainian officials had claimed.
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