KUALA LUMPUR/KIEV- An Indian-origin steward and some of the world’s top AIDS experts were among the 298 people killed when the Malaysian Airlines jetliner was shot down over Ukraine, authorities said Friday.
The aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur went down in eastern Ukraine in Donetsk region, with debris strewn over a large area. The site where the aircraft fell was scorched and media reports said that dead bodies were scattered around.
An eyewitness spoke of the horror as online video shots showed debris on fire and a thick black plume of smoke rising from the crash site.
Before boarding the aircraft, Cor Pan, a Dutch national, posted a photograph of the plane on Facebook with a caption that said if the plane goes missing this is what it looked like. A number of people have commented and shared the picture.
The last glimpse of the Malaysia aircraft was also captured by Malaysian passenger Md Ali Md Salim moments before departure.
The 14-second video, which was uploaded on his Instagram account, showed other passengers stowing their luggage in the overhead compartment, the Malaysian Star reported.
In the caption of the Instagram video, the 30-year-old seemed to have expressed his jitters before flying home.
“Bismillah… #hatiadasikitgentar (In the name of God… feeling a little bit nervous)”, read the caption of the video which has now been uploaded on YouTube and Facebook.
Malaysia Airlines Friday confirmed that there were 298 people on-board flight MH17.
The identified passengers and crew comprised 154 Dutch, 43 Malaysians including 15 crew members, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine British, four German, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one Canadian.
The nationalities of 41 passengers are yet to be determined.
Indian-origin flight steward Sanjid Singh Sandu, 41, was among the 15 Malaysian crew members.
Sandu’s parents received the news from their daughter-in-law, who is also a flight stewardess with Malaysia Airlines, at 4 a.m. Friday.
His distraught father Jijar Singh told a TV channel that “recently he swapped with a colleague for the return Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight”.
A number of AIDS experts too were onboard the flight and they were headed to Australia for a conference in Melbourne.
The International AIDS Society (IAS) in a statement said the loss of so many lives was a deep tragedy.
It is believed the former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange, was among those killed. He had been involved in HIV treatment and research for more than 30 years, working for the World Health Organization.
Xinhua said the plane disappeared from radar at an altitude of 10,000 metres and then crashed near the city of Shakhtarsk.
It started descending 50 km before entering Russian airspace, and was subsequently found burning on the ground on Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine has accused pro-Russian rebels of hitting the MH17 with a Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile as it flew over Ukrainian airspace.
According to a senior US official, a radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the MH17 was shot down.
A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official added.
US President Barack Obama spoke on the telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin soon after news about the crash was received.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Friday said that the MH17 did not give a distress call before it crashed.
Najib said the flight route was declared safe by International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Air Transport Association (IATA) stated that the airspace MH17 was traversing was not subjected to restrictions, the Malaysian Star reported.
“If it is confirmed that the plane is shot down, then the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” Najib said at a press conference.
Najib also said that he had spoken to Obama and they had agreed that an international team should have full access to the crash site, and that no one was to move any debris including the black box. — IANS