Malaysian PM shocked at downing of jet in Ukraine

Kremlin says Putin and Obama have spoken about disaster by phone

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has expressed his shock by reports a Malaysia Airlines plane had gone down over Ukraine and said he was launching an investigation.

"I am shocked by reports than an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation," Najib said on his Twitter feed. MH is the code for Malaysia Airlines. The incident comes after a Malaysia Airlines plane went missing on March 8th on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, which has still not been found.

The Kremlin said Russian president Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Barack Obama had spoken by phone and had discussed the crash.

KLM Airlines has this evening expressed its great regret about the incident in a statement. “Although not yet officially confirmed by Malaysia Airlines, it is with great regret that KLM has learnt about the possible incident with flight MH17, codeshare KL4103, of Malaysia Airlines from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.


“We are in contact with Malaysia Airlines to obtain further information. As a precautionary measure KLM avoids flying over the concerned territory.”

Pro-Russian rebels have denied shooting down the Malaysian airliner with 295 people on board, blaming Ukrainian armed forces for the attack.

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 at the time of the incident.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said: "We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."

The Donetsk regional government said the plane crashed near a village called Grabovo, which it said is under the control of armed pro-Russian separatists. The region where the flight was lost has seen severe fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels in recent days.

A launcher similar to a Buk missile system was seen earlier today by journalists near the eastern town of Snizhne, which is held by pro-Russia rebels.

Last night, a Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down by a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is supporting separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet was forced to bail out.

Pro-Russia rebels claimed responsibility for strikes yesterday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets. The Ukrainian Defence 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.

Earlier this week, Ukraine said a military transport plane was shot down on Monday by a missile fired from Russian territory.

Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister for the rebels, said the plane must have been shot down by Ukrainian government troops. He gave no proof for his statement.

Meanwhile, a shooting down of a large passenger plane while flying at altitude presents airlines and their passengers with an extremely serious new development in air travel, according to aviation experts.

They also question the future of Malaysia Airlines - caught in the global glare of bad publicity following the disappearance of flight MH 370 this year.

If today’s incident is confirmed as a deliberate act then Ukraine airspace could well be closed down, meaning diversions for UK carriers who currently fly to and over the area.

“This could be a very serious development,” said David Kaminski-Morrow, air transport editor of Flightglobal magazine.

He went on: “If reports are true, we are not talking about small-arm fire but serious weaponry. Normally even if planes fly over a war zone they can go high enough for the conflict not to be a worry.

“Any decision about the opening or closing of Ukranian airspace will be a matter for the Ukrainians. It could well be that part or all of that airspace will now be closed.

“Also, individual airlines, including UK carriers, could decide to detour around Ukraine.”

Mr Kaminski-Morrow continued: “It’s really quite incredible that it should be Malaysia Airlines involved in this, after what happened earlier in the year.

“This is not a small airline on a faraway route. This was a major airline flying from a European destination to a capital in the Far East. There must be serious concerns about how the airline can recover from this.

“There will obviously be political as well as aviation concerns from all this. This will run and run.”