London: A Malaysia Airlines plane en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.
Bodies and burning wreckage were scattered over the countryside near Donetsk. On board the flight were 280 passengers and 15 crew. There are no known survivors.
Some eyewitnesses reported the plane had exploded in the air before falling to the ground.
Ukraine officials and anti-Russian activists claimed it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russian separatists.
However separatists and some Russian sources denied this, instead claiming it was shot down by a Ukraine fighter jet.
After the crash other airlines were rerouting flights around the conflict area in eastern Ukraine, where the country has been battling a violent uprising.
The Boeing 777 would have carried Dutch holidaymakers as well as Malaysians returning home. There were also reports of 23 US and nine UK passengers.
MH17 was also a very popular route with oil and gas workers coming to South East Asia from the UK.
A Lonely Planet guidebook for Bali and Lombok was found in the wreckage among passengers' possessions strewn over the ground.
Malaysia Airlines confirmed that Ukrainian air traffic control lost contact with flight MH17 at 1415 (GMT), approximately 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.
Flight MH17 operated on a Boeing 777 left Amsterdam at 12.15pm (Amsterdam local time) and was estimated to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6.10 am (Malaysia local time) the next day.
Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow. — Malaysia Airlines (@MAS) July 17, 2014
Online videos showed thick plumes of smoke coming from the crash site.
Russia’s Life News reported that Malaysian and Netherlands passports had been found at the crash site.
A New York Times reporter at the site said the plane came to rest in a wheatfield. Many of the passengers’ bodies were still belted in their seats and attached to pieces of the plane, she said.
There were also unconfirmed reports that separatist fighters had claimed credit for shooting down the plane.
Russia’s Life News reported that Malaysian and Netherlands passports had been found at the crash site, and photos circulating on Twitter showed bodies lying in the wreckage, some still strapped to airline seats.
Russian news sites reported that local militia had arrived at the crash site to find still-smoldering wreckage scattered over more than a kilometre.
They were using hoses to put out the fires, and were marking human remains with white flags.
Separatist leaders said they would send the plane’s flight recorders to Moscow for examination.
An advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Minister, Anton Gerashenko, said the plane was "hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher”.
The Associated Press said one of its journalists saw a similar launcher near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhe earlier on Thursday.
The ‘Buk’ anti-aircraft missile system, manufactured in Russia, can hit aircraft up to an altitude of 25km.
On June 29 the Itar-Tass news agency reported that Donetsk People's Republic separatists had taken control of a missile defence unit equipped with Buk missile systems.
However a spokesman for the Donetsk rebels denied any involvement.
"The plane was shot down by the Ukrainian side," the spokesman told Interfax.
"We simply do not have such air defence systems."
He also expressed his condolences to the bereaved families.
According to an online flight tracking site, the plane's last known position was near Donetsk at an altitude of just over 10km.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Areseny Yatseniuk ordered an investigation into the "airplane catastrophe" in eastern Ukraine, his spokeswoman Olga Lappo said.
Ukraine's President, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko reportedly called it a “terrorist act” saying two Ukraine warplanes had been shot down from Russian territory in recent days.
He said Ukraine's armed forces were not involved, and on behalf of the State expressed his "deepest and most sincere condolences to the families and relatives of those killed in this terrible tragedy."
"Poroshenko thinks this of the plane that was brought down: it is not an incident, not a catastrophe, but a terrorist act," his press secretary Svatoslav Tsegolko said.
"We are confident that those responsible for this tragedy will be brought to justice," he said.
I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation. — Mohd Najib Tun Razak (@NajibRazak) July 17, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement expressing his deepest condolences to the Prime Minister of Malaysia with regard to the crash, and asked him to convey his sincere sympathy and support to family and friends of the victims.
Interfax reported that pro-Russian separatists claimed to have found the ‘black box’ flight recorders from the plane. Separatist leaders said they would send the plane’s flight recorders to Moscow for examination.
US President Barack Obama said it looked like a "terrible tragedy" and the US would offer any assistance it could to determine what happened and why.
His thoughts and prayers were with all those on board.
EU President Jose Barroso Tweeted that the crash was “truly shocking”.
“Facts need to be established immediately. My thoughts with families of victims,” he wrote.
The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, was flying back from Brussels to deal with the crisis.
More details to follow