GRABOVE: A Malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on Thursday in rebel-held east Ukraine, as Kiev said the jet was shot down in a “terrorist” attack.

Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian insurgents traded blame for the disaster, with comments attributed to a rebel commander suggesting his men may have downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by mistake, believing it was a Ukrainian army transport plane.

There was no sign of survivors at the crash site near the rebel-held town of Shaktarsk in the Donetsk region, where a witness saw dozens of severely mutilated corpses strewn through the smouldering wreck of the decimated airliner.

Debris stretched for kilometres in the area near the Russian border, with the jet’s tail marked with the Malaysian Airlines insignia laying in a corn field, and insurgent fighters and fire trucks nearby.

Russian news agency Itar-Tass cited a Ukrainian aviation official as saying no one had survived.

Malaysia Airlines announced on Twitter the loss of the Boeing 777 carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew, which had been expected in the Malaysian capital at around 6am on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday).

The disaster comes just months after Malaysia’s Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 on board. The plane diverted from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path and its fate remains a mystery despite a massive aerial and underwater search.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Twitter he was “shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed” and announced an “immediate investigation”. Boeing said it was ready to assist the authorities.

“All our thoughts and prayers go to the people on board the Malaysia Airlines plane missing in Ukrainian airspace, as well as their families and friends,” it said in a statement.

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.

Obama called it a “terrible tragedy” and said US officials were trying to establish if any Americans were on board.

Four French nationals and several Dutch were confirmed to have been on board the doomed flight.

Europe and US stock markets were sent tumbling by news of the crash, which sharply raised tensions already fuelled by broadened US and EU sanctions.

Airlines in France, Germany and Britain were told to avoid Ukraine’s airspace following news of the tragedy.

Shot by mistake?

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.

Pro-Russian rebels in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic claimed in a statement the airline split in two after being shot down by a Ukrainian jet – which was then shot down.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2014