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'If my flight disappears, this is what it looks like'

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Cor Pan and Neeltje Tol - believed to be on board MH17

Cor Pan and Neeltje Tol - believed to be on board MH17

Family members of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

Family members of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

A still taken from amateur video hows a fireball shortly after the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over Ukraine. Photo: AP

A still taken from amateur video hows a fireball shortly after the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over Ukraine. Photo: AP

People walk amongst the debris at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. Photo: AP

People walk amongst the debris at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine. Photo: AP

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands on part of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands on part of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An Emergencies Ministry member works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An Emergencies Ministry member works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

A woman, who said her name was Noraini and that she believed a relative of hers was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, cries as she waits for more information about the crashed plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. Reuters

A woman, who said her name was Noraini and that she believed a relative of hers was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, cries as she waits for more information about the crashed plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. Reuters

US President Barack Obama looks down as he speaks about the Malaysian airliner flight MH-17 that was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard. Reuters

US President Barack Obama looks down as he speaks about the Malaysian airliner flight MH-17 that was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard. Reuters

An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 is seen at the G3 gate of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, before it took off, heading to Kuala Lumpur, July 17, 2014. Reuters

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 is seen at the G3 gate of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, before it took off, heading to Kuala Lumpur, July 17, 2014. Reuters

Smoke rises above the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

Smoke rises above the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Reuters

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Cor Pan and Neeltje Tol - believed to be on board MH17

For Cor Pan, a Dutch holidaymaker heading for Kuala Lumpur with his girlfriend Neeltje Tol, boarding a Malaysia Airlines flight was an irresistible opportunity for black humour.

As he made his way down the sky bridge from gate G03 at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport, he paused to take a picture of the Boeing 777-200 that he and Miss Tol were about to board.

In a reference to the disappearance of flight MH370 in March, Mr Pan posted the picture on Facebook with the message: "If the plane disappears, this is what it looks like."

His friends responded by wishing him a good holiday and reminding him to send back lots of photos, but within hours their messages would turn to fear, and then despair.

Flight MH17 pushed back from the gate at 11.14am BST, 14 minutes behind schedule, and took off at 11.30am for a flight that was scheduled to land at 10.50pm. A local plane spotter, Fred Neeleman, photographed the aircraft as it took off, as did another man, Tom Warners.

For the next 110 minutes, the flight was entirely uneventful. With a complement of 280 passengers and 15 crew, MH-17 made its way over Germany, Poland and Ukraine, reaching its cruising altitude of 33,000ft and flying straight and level, but at 1.21pm radar contact was suddenly lost.

On the ground, Igor Strelkov – also known as Igor Girkin – the leader of the pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian government forces for control of eastern Ukraine, used his page on the social networking site Vkontakte to boast that his men had just shot down an aircraft. In a message posted at 2.50pm BST, he wrote: "In the district of Torez an An-26 was just shot down. It crashed somewhere near the Progress mine.

"We warned them not to fly in 'our skies'. Here is video confirmation of the latest 'fallen bird'. The bird landed outside the residential zone, no peaceful civilians were injured."

His post was accompanied by a video of a plume of black smoke rising from the ground, one of several videos that were posted online within two hours of MH-17 going missing.

An aircraft had indeed come down near the village of Grabovo in the Torez area, 25 miles from the Russian border, but the wreckage bore the distinctive white, red and blue livery of Malaysian Airlines. Emergency crews found wreckage and bodies strewn over a nine-mile area.

Part of the aircraft, including at least one engine, had exploded when it hit the ground, leaving an area of blackened debris once the fires had been put out.

The fully dressed, unbloodied bodies of more than 100 passengers lay next to the broken seats in which they had hit the ground still strapped in by their seat belts. Passports and other personal effects were picked out by emergency workers identifying the dead passengers.

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A large section of wing had come down within yards of two buildings, though all those living near the crash site appeared unharmed. Elsewhere, a section of the fuselage, its windows undamaged by the impact, lay in the middle of a field.

"I was working in the field on my tractor when I heard the sound of a plane and then a bang and shots. Then I saw the plane hit the ground and break in two. There was thick black smoke," said an witness who gave his name only as Vladimir.

A separatist rebel from nearby Krasnyi Luch, who gave his name only as Sergei, said: "From my balcony I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then heard two explosions."

The first confirmation that a passenger jet had come down came at 4.04pm, when the Reuters news agency reported that a Malaysian airliner had crashed in Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines said on its Twitter feed that it "has lost contact of MH-17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace".

Blame

By 4.29pm the Russian Interfax news agency was reporting that the aircraft was "shot down".

The finger of blame quickly pointed at the pro-Russian rebels, largely because of the earlier claim of shooting down an aircraft but also because a Ukrainian cargo aircraft had been shot down days before by a surface-to-air missile.

Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko described the incident as a "terrorist act", having earlier said: "We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine armed forces did not fire at any targets in the sky."

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said the aircraft was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, which can hit targets up to an altitude of 72,000ft.

Two weeks ago, pro-Russian fighters boasted that they had captured Buk missiles and launchers when they overran a Ukrainian army garrison on June 29. The DPR posted a Twitter picture at the time of the vehicle-mounted missile system, but last night deleted the picture and denied they possessed such a weapon.

Andrei Purgin, the self-declared deputy prime minister of the DPR, said: "Of course, we do not have such systems. These arms are too heavy and too powerfu."

Meanwhile, another faction, the Lugansk People's Republic, blamed Ukraine, saying in a statement: "Witnesses watching the flight of the Boeing 777 passenger plane saw it being attacked by a battle plane of the Ukrainian forces.

"After that the passenger plane split in two in the air and fell on the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic."

President Barack Obama, who had scheduled a call to the Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss ongoing sanctions against Russia, briefly discussed the plane crash, though news had only reached Putin minutes before the call.

Later in the evening, as word filtered through that 23 Americans and up to nine Britons were believed to be among the dead, the scale of the diplomatic crisis facing both President Obama and David Cameron was becoming clear.

Andrii Kuzmenko, the Ukrainian charge d'affairs, called on Britain to give his country military support to defeat the "terrorists".

He said: "We would like to hear from the British government comprehensive support of Ukraine at the economical dimension, and at the military and technical dimensions. The support could help us to respond properly to the aggression we are facing."Meanwhile, the friends and family of Mr Pan and Miss Tol had accepted the worst. Messages on his Facebook page, which hours earlier had been so joyful, spoke only of grief.

One wrote: "There are too many things that go wrong ? am afraid it is indeed your plane. Rest in peace Cor and Neel. To the family, a lot of strength with this incredible loss."

In Malaysia, with the loss of another airliner so soon after MH370, there were familiar sentiments of denial. A close family friend of Captain Eugene Choo Jin Leong, the captain of MH-17, said: "We are still holding on to hope because, up till now, no official has contacted us to let us know what has happened. All that we know about what happened is from the television." (© The Daily Telegraph)


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