Up to 80 children were feared to be among the 295 passengers and crew who died after the Malaysian Airways plane was shot down over Ukraine yesterday afternoon.
Flight MH17 took off from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam at lunchtime bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. There were 280 passengers and 15 crew on board.
Just over two hours later, as it was flying at a cruising height of 33,000 feet, it was apparently shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine near the rebel-held village of Granobo, 40km from the Russian border and approximately 500km from Kiev.
The Boeing 777-200ER plane appeared to have broken up before impact and the burning wreckage — which included body parts and the belongings of passengers — was scattered over a wide area.
At the time of going to press, the Department of Foreign Affairs here said it had not been given any indication that there were any Irish passengers onboard.
However, the nationalities of up to 50 passengers had still not been officially established at that point as Malaysia Airlines officials were only able to confirm 154 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six British nationals, four Germans, four Belgians, three Philippines nationals and one Canadian.
Immediately after the plane went down, both the Ukraine government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied responsibility for shooting.
However, a short time later, Ukrainian officials pointed the finger of blame at Russian separatists.
They produced footage of intercepted telephone conversations which, they claimed, showed rebels were responsible.
Ukraine’s security services produced the recordings, and said in the first call rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane.
In the second, two rebel fighters — one of them at the scene of the crash — said the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 25 kilometres north of the crash site. Neither recording could be independently verified.
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and called for an international investigation into the crash. He insisted that his forces did not shoot down the plane.
Russian president Vladimir Putin insisted the tragedy would not have happened if the Ukrainians had not renewed military operations against pro-Russian separatists.
Quickly after the tragedy, questions were asked as to why the plane was flying over what was considered to be a war zone. Eurocontrol then confirmed that the Malaysian plane was flying in open airspace, but about 1,000 feet above a closed section of airspace.
However, Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, said the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Mr Razak told a press conference yesterday evening that the jetliner did not make any distress call before it went down in Ukraine. He said “no stone will be left unturned” in trying to find out what happened.
“If it transpires that the plane was shot down, we insist the perpetrators be swiftly brought to justice,” he added.
Many relatives gathered in Schiphol Airport yesterday evening. Malaysian Airlines was last night flying an aircraft to Kiev and onto Amsterdam with “care givers”. The plane was then to fly next-of-kin of all nationalities, who wished it, to Kiev so that they could then be transported onto the crash site.
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