Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in east Ukraine near Russian border | PHOTOS, VIDEO

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The number of Australians confirmed killed in the Malaysia Airlines plane disaster has risen to 28.

It was earlier reported that 27 Australians had died, but Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says 28 Australians are now known to have died and fears that number may rise.

NSW Premier MIke Baird confirmed on Friday night three victims were from his state, two more than first thought.

Flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, after being brought down by a missile.

Bodies and burning wreckage were scattered over the countryside near Donetsk. On board the flight were 280 passengers and 15 crew. There are no known survivors.

Some eyewitnesses reported the plane had exploded in the air before falling to the ground. US intelligence officials confirmed to American media that a surface-to-air missile brought down the airline. However, which side used the missile was less clear, officials said.

Ukraine officials and anti-Russian activists claimed it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russian separatists, with one media report blaming Russian-backed Cossack militants. Reports in Russian media pointed to the Ukrainian military.

Freelance journalist Noah Sneider, at the crash site, reported: "Locals say everything exploded in the air, fell in pieces, both bodies and plane itself. People thought they were being bombed."

After the crash other airlines were rerouting flights around the conflict area in eastern Ukraine, where the country has been battling a violent uprising.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was investigating "a number" of Australians abroad the Boeing 777 would have also carried Dutch holidaymakers and Malaysians returning home. There were also reports of 23 US and nine UK passengers. 

Eastern Ukraine has been roiled for months by a violent pro-Russian separatist uprising in which a number of military aircraft have been downed. But this would be the first commercial airline disaster to result from the hostilities. Despite the turmoil in eastern Ukraine, the commercial airspace over that part of the country is a heavily trafficked route and has remained open.

Malaysia Airlines, still reeling from the mysterious loss of another Boeing 777 flight in March, confirmed that Ukrainian air traffic control lost contact with flight MH17 at 1415 (GMT), approximately 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Flight MH17 operated on a Boeing 777 left 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.

Online videos showed thick plumes of smoke coming from the crash site.

Russia’s Life News reported that Malaysian and Netherlands passports had been found at the crash site.

A New York Times reporter at the site said the plane came to rest in a wheatfield. Many of the passengers’ bodies were still belted in their seats and attached to pieces of the plane, she said.

Russian news sites reported that local militia had arrived at the crash site to find still-smoldering wreckage scattered over more than a kilometre.

They were used hoses to put out the fires, and marked human remains with white flags.

Russia-based Interfax reported that pro-Russian separatists claimed to have found the ‘black box’ flight recorders from the plane. Separatist leaders said they would send the plane’s flight recorders to Moscow for examination. 

An advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Minister, Anton Gerashenko, said the plane was "hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher”.

The Associated Press said one of its journalists saw a similar launcher near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhe earlier on Thursday.

The ‘Buk’ anti-aircraft missile system, manufactured in Russia, can hit aircraft up to an altitude of 25km.

On June 29 the Itar-Tass news agency reported that Donetsk People's Republic separatists had taken control of a missile defence unit equipped with Buk missile systems.

However Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, the insurgent group in eastern Ukraine, denied in a telephone interview that the rebels had anything to do with the loss of the passenger jet.

He said that the rebels had shot down Ukrainian planes before but that their anti-aircraft weapons could reach only to around 4000 metres, far below the cruising level of passenger jets.

"We don't have the technical ability to hit a plane at that height," he said. He said the plane apparently came down in an area of Ukrainian military operations and that it was not out of the question that the Ukrainians themselves shot it down.

According to an online flight tracking site, the plane's last known position was near Donetsk at an altitude of just over 10km.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Areseny Yatseniuk ordered an investigation into the "airplane catastrophe" in eastern Ukraine, his spokeswoman Olga Lappo said.

Ukraine's President, Petro Poroshenko, reportedly called it a “terrorist act”, saying two Ukraine warplanes had been shot down from Russian territory in recent days.

He said Ukraine's armed forces were not involved, and on behalf of the State expressed his "deepest and most sincere condolences to the families and relatives of those killed in this terrible tragedy."

"Poroshenko thinks this of the plane that was brought down: it is not an incident, not a catastrophe, but a terrorist act," his press secretary Svatoslav Tsegolko said.

"We are confident that those responsible for this tragedy will be brought to justice," he said.

Within hours of the crash, Ukrainian media have reported blamed Russian-backed Cossack militants, publishing what the Kyiv Post said was the content of a phone call between members of Russian-backed militant groups, intercepted by Ukraine's security agency.

The phone call was made 20 minutes after the plane crash, the Kyiv Post reported, by Igor Bezler, military commander of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic.

He was said to be reporting to a Russian army colonel in their intelligence department.

In a transcript of the conversation Bezler says "We have just shot down a plane".

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement expressing his deepest condolences to the Prime Minister of Malaysia with regard to the crash, and asked him to convey his sincere sympathy and support to family and friends of the victims.

US President Barack Obama said it looked like a "terrible tragedy" and the US would offer any assistance it could to determine what happened and why.

EU President Jose Barroso Tweeted that the crash was “truly shocking”.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, was flying back from Brussels to deal with the crisis.

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