Australian political leaders have condemned a missile attack which brought down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet killing all 298 people on board, including 27 Australians.
The death toll includes 108 delegates to an AIDS conference to be held in Melbourne, 28 Australians and Europeans vacationing in the region.
Reports suggest the aircraft, a Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a ground-to-air missile in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.
According to a passenger list, of the 298 people on board, 154 were Dutch, 28 were Australian, 23 were Malaysian, 11 were Indonesian, six were from the UK, four from Germany, four from Belgium, three from the Philippines and one Canadian, with the remaining passengers’ nationalities unknown.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed 28 Australians were on board, but said the figure was subject to change.
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“We can’t restore them to life, but we can and will do everything to support them [the families] in this sad and bitter time because that is the Australian way – we help in times of trouble,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott told a special session of parliament.
“This looks less like an accident than a crime. If so, the perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten echoed Mr Abbott’s sentiments, calling the accident “a tyrannical and wild act”.
“I rise to support the words of the Prime Minister this morning,” said Mr Shorten. “This news that we woke up to this morning is worse than shocking. It is debilitating and bewildering … ”
Victim identities start to emerge
The President of International AIDS Society, Joep Lange, has been confirmed dead.
World Health Organization media relations coordinator, Glenn Thomas, has also reportedly died in the crash. The American was on his way to Melbourne to attend a large international AIDS conference, according to Vox.
Dr. Haileyesus Getahun, the head of the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis program, broke the news on Twitter.
It is believed that other conference goers perished in the flight according to Vox. Aids workers and activists have taken to Twitter to express their shock and grief.
World leaders react
US president Barack Obama said: “The world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia/Ukraine border, and 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 United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why.”
US intelligence services believe that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
‘No stone unturned’
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak held an impromptu press conference assuring the world that “no stone will be left unturned”.
“The Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down. At this stage however Malaysia is unable to verify the cause of this crash but we must and we will find out precisely,” Prime Minister Razak told press.
“If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be bought to justice.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it’s seeking confirmation from authorities and has set up a hotline – 1300 555 135 – for relatives to call.
International broadcasters are showing footage of what appears to be an Australian passport picked up amongst the wreckage although there is no official confirmation of the finding.
Early reports of what happened
Reports by AFP suggest a social media site owned by a Ukrainian rebel commander said the insurgents believed they had shot down an army transport aircraft at the location where a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed.
The comments suggested the separatists shot down the passenger jet in error, believing it was a large Ukrainian army transport plane.
“We just downed an An-26 near Torez. It is down near the Progress mine,” AFP reported the page attributed to Igor Strelkov said.
Reports suggest the scene is littered with bodies and at least a dozen passports have been recovered – one of them Australian.
Vice President Joe Biden has reportedly offered a US team to assist at the scene.
Europe’s stock markets fell overnight, with losses accelerating after the crash, which sharply raised tensions already fuelled by broadened US and EU sanctions.
“The question now is to know what really happened to that plane, but it is clear that is what really sent the index lower,” said Renaud Murail at Barclays Bourse in Paris.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) July 17, 2014
Site reports military involvement
A social media site attributed to a top Ukrainian rebel commander says the insurgents had shot down an army transporter at the location where a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed on Thursday near the Russian border.
The comments by the commander of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” suggest the separatists shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane by mistake, believing it was a large 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, which is frequently quoted by Ukrainian media.
The rebels shot down another An-26 in rebel-held eastern Ukraine on June 14, killing 49 government servicemen.
—with AAP, ABC, AFP