At least one New Zealander could have been on board a crashed Malaysia Airlines flight which is believed to have been shot down over the Ukrainian border.
The downed flight MH17, carrying 295 people, is thought to have been brought down by a surface-to-air missile in the early this morning New Zealand time.
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Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials were "following up on indications that at least one New Zealand passport holder, and other passengers with New Zealand connections, may have been on board", Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said.
"The ministry is working hard to confirm these details and make contact with the next of kin."
A firefighter stands as flames burst amongst the wreckage.Photo / AFP
There were reportedly no survivors.
"Our thoughts are with all the families of those on board as they wait for news. Latest reports suggest that more than 295 people may have died in the crash," Mr McCully said in a statement.
"It is important that the matter be fully investigated and we call for independent investigators to be allowed access to the crash site."
The crash was a tragedy, he said, extending his condolences on behalf of all New Zealanders to the families of those on board.
MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it came down over rebel-held east Ukraine. It made no distress call.
Most of those on board were Dutch, Malaysia Airlines United Kingdom/Europe regional senior vice president Huib Gorter said.
An incomplete flight manifest showed 154 Dutch citizens were on board, alongside 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesian, six UK citizens, four Germans, four French, four Belgium nationals, three Filipinos and one Canadian.
At least two delegates bound for an international AIDS conference in Melbourne were aboard the flight, according to reports.
The 20th annual AIDS Conference is due to begin on Sunday at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in Southbank.
A fireball seen shortly after the crash. AP/Amateur Video accessed by APTV
The wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines jet. Photo / AFP
Firefighters amongst the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines jet. Photo / AFP
An infant was among those on board. There were also reports that up to 80 children were passengers on the flight.
The nationality of the other 58 passengers on board had yet to be determined, Mr Gorter said.
Air New Zealand said it had no code-share agreement with Malaysia Airlines.
Air New Zealand is a member of the Star Alliance network. Malaysia Airlines is a member of the Oneworld airline alliance.
New Zealand Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae said he was deeply shocked by the crash.
"This is terrible news for the families and friends of all those on board. We share their grief and I know the thoughts and sympathies of all New Zealanders will be with them," Sir Jerry said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: "If this was a crime, a crime rather than an accident, it's an unspeakable crime and the perpetrators must be brought to justice."
People stand near flower tributes placed outside the Dutch embassy to commemorate victims of the crash. Photo / AP
Kiwi narrowly missed being on flight
Mike Bullot, Kiwi sailor and husband of Masterchef winner Chelsea Winter, had a close call with flight MH17.
He was almost delayed and put on the flight shot down. However he caught the same flight the day before by just a few minutes.
He commented on his Facebook page that it was 'a good day to be alive'.
"Arriving at checkin for flight MH0017 on the 16th July being told flight was overbooked and I'm placed on standby.
"I'm obviously pretty pissed about this and it's explained to me that airlines can legally overbook up to 20% of seats and today's flight is well overbooked. But, 'not to worry, we'll pay for a hotel and expenses while you wait for tomorrow's flight if a seat doesn't come available'.
Standing at gate with some 20-30 other people hoping for a seat and boarding pass. I get mine a few mins before gate closes.
"Too many what-ifs to think about right now... Wondering how many of those behind me in line were pushed back a day...'
Firefighters amongst the wreckage of the jet. Photo / AFP
NZ journalist at the scene
New Zealand journalist Alexi O'Brien, who works for Al Jazeera, is at the scene, where security was very tight, she said.
A local military commander had reportedly posted a message on social media saying, 'A plane has been shot down. We didn't want you flying in our airspace', she told 3News.
"I have to be careful about the wording, it wasn't 'we have shot a plane', but there is potentially a link there," she said.
The message was posted one minute after the time Malaysia Airlines said its team had lost contact with the aircraft, she said.
There had also been reports that separatist fighters had found the plane's black box, she said.
Who is responsible?
Ukraine's state security chief has accused two Russian military intelligence officers of involvement in the crash, basing his allegation on phone interception. The officers must be punished for this "crime", he said at a press conference.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak addresses a press conference. Photo / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov called allegations "stupidity", the Guardian reported. Mr Putin reportedly blamed Ukraine for the crash, according to Russian media.
Russian separatists in Ukraine have blamed the Ukrainian Government for downing the aircraft, with the rebels saying they did not have the capacity or training to fire a surface-to-air missile.
Relatives of some of those on board have begun gathering at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, while flowers and tributes have been laid at the Dutch embassy in Kiev.
Malaysia PM: 'A tragedy in a tragic year for Malaysia'
At a news conference held earlier this morning Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia Airlines were in the process of notifying the next of kin for the passengers and crew."
Relatives of passengers from Amsterdam outside the family holding area at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Photo / AFP
The Government of Malaysia is dispatching a special flight to Kiev carrying a specialist Malaysian disaster and rescue team.
"The Ukrainian authorities believe the plane was shot down."
But we must and we will find out precisely what happened to this flight."
No stone would be left unturned, Mr Razak said.
A man lights a candle in front of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kiev. Photo / AFP
"If the flight was found to be shot down the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
"This is a tragic day in what has already been a tragic year for Malaysia."
Are thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of those on board the flight...we are all united in grief," Mr Razak said.
Unofficial passenger list detailed by Malaysia Airlines
Malaysia Airlines' United Kingdom/Europe regional senior vice president Huib Gorter said Dutch citizens were predominantly among those who perished board.
An incomplete flight manifest showed 154 Dutch citizens were on board.
Also on board were 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six UK citizens, four Germans, four French, four Belgium nationals, three Filipinos and one Canadian.
An infant was amount those on board. The nationality of the other 58 passengers on board had yet to be determined, Mr Gotter said.
People stand next to the wreckage of the jet. Photo / AP
Debris stretched for kilometres in the area near the Russian border, with the jet's tail marked with the Malaysian Airlines insignia laying in a corn field, and insurgent fighters and fire trucks nearby.
Russian news agency Itar-Tass cited a Ukrainian aviation official as saying no one had survived.
Malaysia Airlines announced on Twitter the loss of the Boeing 777 carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew, which had been expected in the Malaysian capital at around 6:00 am on Friday (10am NZ time Friday).
The disaster comes just months after Malaysia's Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 on board. The plane diverted from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path and its fate remains a mystery despite a massive aerial and underwater search.
The information screen at the Arrivals hall of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang displaying Malaysia Airlines MH017. Photo / AP
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama -- at loggerheads over a new wave of US sanctions over Ukraine -- had discussed the crash.
Obama called it a "terrible tragedy" and said US officials were trying to establish if any Americans were on board.
US President Barack Obama addresses the plane crash. Photo / AFP
Kiwi aviation expert: Major setback for industry
New Zealand aviation commentator Peter Clark said the incident would be a blow to public confidence in aviation.
"We spend millions of dollars on security and screening processes for the people down the back, and all these other things around aviation affect aviation safety. It's a tragedy for the industry," he said.
Luggage is pictured on the site of the crash. Photo / AFP
He said it was rare for passenger aircraft to be shot down in warfare in recent years.
Russia shot down a Korean flight which had veered off its flight path over Russia in 1983, killing 239 people, and the United States shot down an Iranian airliner in the Persian Gulf in 1988, killing 290 people.
Ukrainian groups also shot down a transporter in eastern Ukraine last month, killing 49 people and Mr Clark said many airlines had stopped flying over Ukraine since that incident.
"I'm led to believe that the [Malaysian] plane was deviating because of weather conditions," he said.
"I really feel for the airline. They were struggling to get back on their feet after MH370."
Europe and US stock markets were sent tumbling by news of the crash, which sharply raised tensions already fuelled by broadened US and EU sanctions.
Airlines in France, Germany and Britain were told to avoid Ukraine's airspace following news of the tragedy.
In this photo taken with a mobile phone provided by Andrei Kashtanov, smoke rises from where a Malaysia Airlines commercial plane crashed in eastern Ukraine. Photo / AP
Shot by mistake?
There were conflicting claims of responsibility after the shocking new development in crisis-torn Ukraine where fighting between separatists and the Western-backed government has claimed over 600 lives.
Smoke rises up at a crash site, near the village of Grabovo. Photo / AP
The official spokesman for President Petro Poroshenko said he believed pro-Russian insurgents downed the jet.
"This incident is not a catastrophe. It is a terrorist act," Poroshenko's spokesman posted on Twitter.
The Ukrainian leader said earlier that "the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky" and vowed "those behind this tragedy will be brought to justice".
Pro-Russian rebels in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic claimed in a statement the airline split in two after being shot down by a Ukrainian jet -- which was then shot down.
"Witnesses watching the flight of the Boeing 777 passenger plane saw it being attacked by a battle plane of the Ukrainian forces," it said.
But a social media site attributed to a rebel commander in Donetsk itself said the insurgents shot down an army transporter at the exact site of the Malaysia Airlines crash.
The comments by Igor Strelkov, top military commander of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" suggest the separatists shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane by mistake, believing it was a large Ukrainian army transport plane.
"We just downed an An-26 near Torez. It is down near the Progress mine," said the VK page attributed to Igor Strelkov, which is frequently quoted by Ukrainian media.
"We had warned (the Ukrainian armed forces) not to fly in 'our sky'," Strelkov says in the post. "And here is a video confirming that a 'bird fell'," said the post.
The website then provides a link identical to that published by Ukrainian media in reports about the Malaysia Airlines jet.
A couple walks to the location where more information will be given regarding the Malaysia Airlines crash in rebel-held east Ukraine, at Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam. Photo / AP
Information for affected New Zealanders
• Any New Zealanders who believe they had a family member on MH17 and are unable to contact them are advised to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular division on +64 4 439 8000.
•Malaysian Airlines have established a Help Line in Kuala Lumpur for concerned family members: +603 7884 1234.
- additional reporting, AFP and AP