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Malaysian plane with 295 on board reportedly shot down by Ukraine

UKRAINE: A plane which crashed in eastern Ukraine with 295 people on board was reportedly shot down as it flew through or near airspace deemed unsuitable for passenger jets.

The Malaysia Airlines plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was travelling at an altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 metres) when it was brought down, Russia’s Interfax reported.

An adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry told the Boeing 777 was brought down by a Buk ground-to-air missile, killing all 280 passengers and 15 crew members. Plumes of thick, black smoke could be seen rising high into the air near the village of Grabovo, Donetsk.

The plane, which one eyewitness said split in two on impact, is almost unrecognisable in pictures of the crash site, with burning wreckage scattered across a vast area.

A spokesman for Malaysia Airlines, still reeling from the loss of flight MH370 in March, confirmed it had lost contact with flight MH17, which took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 12.15pm local time. The flight disappeared from radar as it flew over Ukrainian airspace, the spokesman said.

Aviation sources said the aircraft appeared to have been flying through a block of airspace deemed ‘unsuitable for civilian aircraft.’ “It doesn’t mean aircraft are banned from flying into that airspace but pilots are certainly advised not to,” he said.

“It raises questions about why the plane was in an area it had been advised not to fly through. Did it stray into that area by accident or did the pilot decide it was a risk worth taking, perhaps as a fuel saving measure?”

Alexander Borodai, the eastern Ukraine separatist leader, said the aircraft was shot down by Ukrainian government forces - a claim backed by a separatist from Krasnyi Luch, who told Reuters the rebels did not have weapons capable of shooting down a plane at such height.

However, officials in Kiev denied any involvement, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ordering an immediate investigation into what he described as a “catastrophe”.