KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysia Airlines said on Thursday that a passenger plane feared crashed in eastern Ukraine was carrying 295 people, amid speculation it had been shot down.
“Malaysia Airlines confirms it received notification from Ukrainian ATC (air traffic control) that it had lost contact with flight MH17 at 1415 (GMT)… approximately 50 km (31 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border,” the airline said on its Twitter account.
The flag carrier, still reeling from the mysterious March 8 disappearance of flight MH370, said the aircraft was travelling from Amsterdam on an overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur with 280 passengers and 15 crew.
It had been expected in the Malaysian capital at 6:10 am on Friday (2210 GMT Thursday). It gave no further information on what might have happened to the plane.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was seen arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to meet with officials on the tragedy.
“I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed,” he said earlier on his Twitter feed.
“We are launching an immediate investigation.”
Government officials were expected to hold a press conference early Friday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the jet crashed over rebel-held eastern Ukraine and may have been shot down.
“We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky,” Poroshenko said in a statement posted on the president’s website.
Regional officials in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine confirmed the plane had come down near the town of Shaktarsk.
A social media site attributed to a top Ukrainian rebel commander said insurgents had shot down an army transporter at the location where the plane came down near the Russian border.
The comments suggest the separatists had shot down the aircraft by mistake, believing it was a large Ukrainian army transport plane.
Emergency services were rushing to the scene, a security source told Interfax-Ukraine.
The incident is a fresh body blow to the flag carrier which, along with the Malaysian government, is still struggling to provide answers to the disappearance of flight MH370.
That plane went missing with 239 passengers and crew on board and is now believed to have diverted off its flight path and crashed in the remote Indian Ocean.
No trace of the plane has yet been found.
Kiev earlier accused Russia of downing a Ukrainian military plane on a mission over the east of the country, stoking tensions in the growing conflict on the edges of Europe that has claimed over 600 lives.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, who was on a China visit, tweeted: “I’m taking the first flight back from Beijing to be on top of #MH17. Pray and hope please.”
Liow took over last month in a cabinet shuffle from then-acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who gained world notoriety with his daily briefings on the MH370 saga.
Hishammuddin remains defence minister.