A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has apparently been shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
The aircraft, registered 9M-MRD and operating flight MH17 with 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board – including 27 Australians – was reportedly hit by a Russian made SA-11 or SA-17 surface-to-air missile fired from separatist rebel-held territory in the disputed eastern end of the country. Amateur video footage showed the aircraft exploding on impact with the ground, and the charred remains of recognisable aircraft components strewn across a fairly wide semi-rural area.
The aircraft was flying at 33,000 feet, just above a declared exclusion zone that had been reserved for air operations during the escalating conflict. A Ukrainian An-26 transport and two Su-25 close air support fighters have reportedly been shot down in the same area in recent days, albeit at lower altitudes.
About an hour after contact with the aircraft was lost, Malaysia Airlines released a short statement: “Malaysia Airlines confirms it received notification from Ukrainian ATC that it had lost contact with flight MH17 at 1415 (GMT) at 30km from Tamak waypoint, approximately 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.
“Flight MH17 operated on a Boeing 777 departed 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.”
The route taken by MH17 over Ukraine is a commonly used corridor for airliners flying between western Europe and southeast Asian ports. Reports indicate the same route was flown by MH17 on the previous two days. But following today’s shoot down, Ukrainian authorities have extended the airspace restrictions to unlimited altitude in the Dnipropetrovsk flight information region where the incident occurred.
Qantas has confirmed that it does not currently operate its European services through Ukrainian airspace. Since Qantas moved its European transit hub to Dubai, like most services out of the Middle East its flights typically take a more southerly route across Turkey and the southern Black Sea region.
“No Qantas flight paths track across the Ukraine. Our London to Dubai services fly approximately 400 nautical miles south of this region,” the airline said on its website.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the families of all onboard MH17 and with everyone at Malaysian Airlines.”
The US FAA has subsequently issued a NOTAM barring US carriers over eastern Ukraine.
“On the evening of July 17, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) prohibiting US flight operations until further notice, in the airspace over eastern Ukraine, due to recent events and the potential for continued hazardous activities,” the FAA said in a statement. “The restricted area includes the entire Simferopol and Dnepropetrovsk flight information regions (FIRs). This action expands a prohibition of U.S. flight operations issued by the FAA in April, over the Crimean region of Ukraine and adjacent areas of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. No scheduled U.S. airlines are currently flying routes through this airspace.”
Malaysia Airlines said in a statement issued on the morning of July 18 that: “With immediate effect, all European flights operated by Malaysia Airlines will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route.”
The airline stressed that: “The usual flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.”