27 Australians among 295 killed on Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine
JULY 18, 2014 9:46AM
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UP TO 27 Australians were aboard a Malaysia Airlines plane apparently shot down by a missile over rebel-held east Ukraine, killing all 295 on board.
Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian insurgents traded blame for the disaster, with comments attributed to a rebel chief suggesting his men may have downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by mistake, believing it was a Ukrainian army transport plane.
The Boeing 777-200ER, travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, appeared to have broken up before impact and the burning wreckage was scattered over a wide area.
Malaysia said the plane had made no distress call.
American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile took down a passenger jet.
A US official said US intelligence assessments suggest it is more likely pro-Russian separatists or the Russians rather than Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane.
US Vice President Joe Biden said the incident was “not an accident’’ and described the Malaysia Airlines plane as having been “blown out of the sky.’’
Tony Abbott said if the plane was shot down it was an “unspeakable crime”.
The Prime Minister said at least 23 Australians were among the 280 passengers, while Dutch authorities put the Australian death toll at 27.
Alongside them were 154 Dutch, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six from the UK, four each from Belgium and Germany and one from Canada. Other nationalities had yet to be confirmed.
All of the 15 crew were Malaysian nationals. Some infants were also on board.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) urged Australians with concerns about families to try to contact their relatives directly.
The flight, MH 17, codeshare with KLM flight KL4103, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, is a popular cheap route for Australians to travel back home from Europe and Britain. Social media has run images of an Australian passport allegedly found at the site crash.
There was no sign of survivors at the crash site, where reporters saw horrific scenes of carnage with dozens of mutilated corpses and body parts strewn through the smouldering wreck of the decimated Boeing 777 airliner.
Charred debris stinking of kerosene stretched for kilometres across the rebel-controlled zone in the Donetsk region. A top rebel leader said his forces were prepared to agree to a short ceasefire to allow for the recovery operation.
Shell-shocked locals said the impact felt “like an earthquake’’ in their village of Grabove, near the Russian border.
The village is under the control of pro-Russia separatists and the area has seen severe fighting between the two sides in recent days. Rebel fighters at the scene of the wreckage had piled up victims’ possessions into heaps and threatened reporters attempting to film footage.
The cockpit and one of the turbines lay at a distance of one 1 kilometre from one another. Residents said the tail had landed around 10 kilometres further away. Pieces of charred bodies and bones were spread around the field. Rescue workers planted sticks with white flags in spots where they found body parts.
Some journalists attempting to reach the crash site were detained briefly by rebel militiamen, who were nervous and aggressive.
At Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, from where the ill-fated jet took off, an AFP journalist saw family members in tears, while Dutch television broadcast harrowing images of passports found in the wreck, including those of children.
Officials from Malaysian Airlines, speaking at Schipol airport, said their “gravest attention is to help the people who are suffering’’, adding that they will assist family members to visit the crash site in the coming days.
A charter plane will take the families to Kiev and from there the grieving relatives will have a difficult seven-hour road trip to the site.
Europe’s flight safety body Eurocontrol said Ukrainian authorities had closed the airspace over the east of the country, after a string of countries advised their carriers to stay away.
Still reeling from the loss of Flight MH370, Malaysia Airlines announced on Twitter the loss of the Boeing 777 along with its 280 passengers and 15 crew.
It said Ukrainian air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 0015 AEST about four hours into its flight, about 50 kilometres from the Russia-Ukraine border.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Twitter he was “shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed’’ and announced an ‘’immediate investigation’’.
“Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that the aircraft did not make a distress call,’’ he said.
“`If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice,’’ he said.
Europe and US stock markets were sent tumbling by the crash, which escalated tensions fuelled by broadened US and EU sanctions.
Shocked world leaders from Washington to Brussels and Berlin joined in calling for an international inquiry to determine the causes of a disaster with potentially huge political implications.
Diplomats said Britain called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine following the crash.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama — at loggerheads over a new wave of sanctions over Ukraine — had discussed what Obama called “a terrible tragedy’’.
Washington offered Ukraine help with the probe, as Boeing also said it was ready to assist in any way.
Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said separatist forces would be ready to commit to a truce for several days to allow full access to the site.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility after the shocking new development in crisis-torn Ukraine, where fighting between separatists and the Western-backed government has claimed over 600 lives.
The official spokesman for President Petro Poroshenko said he believed pro-Russian insurgents downed the jet.
“This incident is not a catastrophe. It is a terrorist act,’’ Poroshenko’s spokesman posted on Twitter.
The Ukrainian leader said Kiev’s armed forces “did not fire at any targets in the sky’’ and vowed “those behind this tragedy will be brought to justice’’.
Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on his Facebook page that the plane was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher.
US officials said Russia has sent a wide range of heavy weaponry into eastern Ukraine in recent months, although it is uncertain whether that includes the Buk air defence system, which is operated by a tracked vehicle. The US suspects that Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons have been provided to the separatists.
According to a Ukrainian state-owned import-export firm that specialises in military technology and weaponry, known as Ukroboronservice, the Ukrainian military operates the Buk-M1 system, which is designated by NATO as the SA-11 Gadfly. It is designed to shoot down military aircraft, including helicopters, as well as cruise missiles.
The Russians also are believed by US officials to have provided the separatists in eastern Ukraine with other heavy weaponry such as artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
Pro-Russian rebels in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic claimed the airline split in two after being shot down by a Ukrainian jet — which was then shot down in turn.
But a social media site attributed to the top military commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Strelkov, said the insurgents shot down an army transporter at the exact site of the Malaysia Airlines crash.
The comments suggested separatists targeted the Malaysia Airlines plane in the belief it was an An-26 Ukrainian army transport plane.
“We just downed an An-26 near Torez. It is down near the Progress mine,’’ said the VK page attributed to Igor Strelkov.
“And here is a video confirming that a ‘bird fell’,” said the post, providing a link identical to that published by Ukrainian media in reports about the Malaysia Airlines jet.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a full international investigation of the disaster.
“There is clearly a need for a full, transparent and international investigation,’’ Mr Ban said.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama _ at loggerheads over a new wave of US sanctions over Ukraine _ had discussed the crash.
Mr Putin has expressed his condolences but has not yet countered accusations that Russians may have been involved.
President Obama said: “It looks like it may be a terrible tragedy. I have directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government. The US will offer any assistance we can to determine what happened and why. As a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home.’’
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 on Wednesday, the first direct claim of a Russian attack on Ukrainian forces.
Additional reporting: wires
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