Ukraine says rebels shot down Malaysian airliner with ground-to-air missile

A Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian militants on Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said.

Raising the stakes in the East-West showdown between Kiev and Moscow, the official blamed "terrorists" using a ground-to-air missile and Ukraine's prime minister called the downing of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur a "catastrophe".

A Reuters correspondent saw burning wreckage and bodies on the ground at the village of Grabovo, about 40 km from the Russian border in an area where pro-Russian rebels have been active and have claimed to have shot down other aircraft.

"I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang," one local man at Grabovo told Reuters. "Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke."

The Boeing 777 came down near the city of Donetsk, stronghold of pro-Russian rebels, interior ministry official Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook, adding it was "shot down with a Buk anti-aircraft system by terrorists," the term the Kiev government uses for militants seeking to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia. The dead were 280 passengers and 15 crew.

Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed it had lost contact with its flight MH-17 from Amsterdam. "The last known position was over Ukrainian air space," it said.

A rebel leader said Ukrainian forces shot the airliner down. Ukrainian official said their military was not involved.

A general view shows part of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in the Donetsk region, near the Ukrainian border with Russia. - Reuters pic, July 17, 2014.

Interfax-Ukraine quoted another Ukrainian official as saying the plane disappeared from radar when it was flying at 10,000 metres, a typical cruising altitude for airliners.

Ukraine has accused Russia of taking an active role in the four-month-old conflict in recent days and accused it earlier on Thursday of shooting down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet - an accusation that Moscow denied.

The military commander of the rebels, a Russian named Igor Strelkov, had written on his social media page shortly before the report of the airliner being downed that his forces had brought down an Antonov An-26 in the same area. It is a turboprop transport plane of a type used by Ukraine's forces. – Reuters, July 17, 2014.