It has been confirmed that Australians were on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which was reportedly shot down over Ukraine.
The passenger plane was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam when the incident occurred, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew.
IMAGE: Wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 downed over Ukraine. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)
The airline’s European chief put the Australian toll at 27 (the figure was later updated to 28). It is understood that as well as the Australians, the MH17 passenger list included 154 Dutch, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six Britons, four Belgians, four Germans, three Filipinos, one Canadian and others who so far have not had their nationalities confirmed.
Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko has accused pro-Russia rebels of shooting down the jet with a ground-to-air missile and called it a “terrorist act” while US vice-president Joe Biden has said the plane was “blown out of the sky”.
IMAGE: Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 reportedly shot down over Ukraine. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian president Vladimir Putin has blamed the Poroshenko government’s “resumed military activities in south-eastern Ukraine”.
Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, said if it is confirmed that flight MH17 was shot down “it becomes not an accident but a crime”.
Mr Abbott told ABC radio it was a “grim, grim time” for the families of the victims and that the world should be “filled with revulsion”.
“This is a terrible tragedy for their loved ones, for their families; my deepest, deepest condolences to everyone connected with people on this flight,” Mr Abbott said.
“We can assure families that at the highest levels of government we feel for them, we grieve with them, we pray for them — that’s really the first thing we do. The second thing we do is to provide whatever practical assistance we can, in terms of counsel, in terms of repatriation of remains and so on.”
This is just a very, very sad time, made worse by reports it may be a crime rather than an accident.”
The prime minister confirmed that Australian government representatives were being sent to Ukraine to provide assistance.
Foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, also confirmed that 27 (later 28) Australians were aboard the doomed flight, adding: “We can’t yet point the finger of blame until there’s been a full investigation.”
However, in response to reports that pro-Russian separatists have removed the black box flight recorder from the crash scene, Ms Bishop said if true it “must be returned to authorities immediately”.
Australian opposition leader, Bill Shorten, offered his party’s deepest sympathies, saying, “This tragedy is devastating news.”
Images broadcast by Russian news organisation LifeNews.ru appear to show an Australian passport found in the downed plane’s wreckage.
Malaysia Airlines are notifying next of kin. Qantas have confirmed none of its codeshare passengers were aboard the downed flight.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade say they have contacted the next of kin of the Australians known to have been aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. They have also set up an emergency hotline for anyone who believes a relative was on board : Telephone + 61 2 6261 3305 from overseas, or within Australia on 1300 555 135
*This article was updated on 19 July 2014 with the officially revised number of 28 Australian victims; formerly the number given was 27.